Chet Baker

Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. was raised in a musical household in Oklahoma (his father was a guitar player), and coming of age in Southern California during the bebop era of jazz, Baker found success as a trumpet player in 1951 when he was chosen by Charlie Parker to play with him for a series of West Coast engagements.

In 1952, Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which was an instant phenomenon. Baker became famous on the strength of his solo on their recording of “My Funny Valentine” a piece he was later said to “own”. The Quartet, however, lasted less than a year because of Mulligan's arrest on drug charges.

In 1954, Baker won the Downbeat Jazz Poll, beating Miles Davis among others. Over the next few years, Baker fronted his own combo, playing trumpet and singing. He became an icon of the west coast “cool school” of jazz, helped by his good looks and singing talent. By the early 1960s, Baker had begun playing the fluegelhorn, as well.

Then, drug addiction caught up with Baker, and his promising musical career declined as a result. Heroin addiction created a myriad of legal problems for him as well; he served more than a year in prison in Italy, and was later expelled from both West Germany and England for drug-related offenses. Baker was eventually deported from West Germany to the United States after running afoul of the law there a second time. He settled in Milpitas in northern California where he was active in San Jose and San Francisco between short jail terms served for writing his own prescriptions.

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