[Monday Notes No.32] Chet Baker was a great trumpeter and singer who lived a tormented life. Addicted to drugs for over 30 years almost continuously, he went from the heights of beauty and success to the depths of desolation and degradation. Let’s listen to his interpretation of a song written by Rodgers-Hart, Do It the Hard Way.
Chet Baker achieved success at a young age thanks to his angelic face, unparalleled seductiveness and instinctive musical talent. Chet Baker preferred to play songs, which he often recreated and shaped thanks to his unmatched skills as a melodist.
After an introduction by pianist Kenny Drew, Chet Baker sings the theme. Chet performs the melody without distorting it in any way, but manages to give the piece a strong push forward. Imagine the song without the accompaniment of other instruments: the pulse is very strong, the rhythm seems to come from the voice itself, making the rhythm section almost superfluous.
After the theme, the voice becomes an instrument (1’01”) for an improvised line of perfect proportions. The chords are clearly delineated, Chet moves over them like a bop musician. Once again, even without a piano we would have no difficulty in understanding the harmony of the piece.
The sung improvisation has the duration of a whole chorus, as does the subsequent piano solo (1’46”). The reprise of the theme (2’31”) occurs instead from the middle of the piece, the singer repeats only the second verse of the song. All this happens in just three minutes, making this piece a true masterpiece of synthesis and essentiality.
This recording gives us an appreciation of Chet Baker as a singer; next week we will hear Chet Baker as a trumpeter, who is no less fascinating and surprising.
Until next Monday!