May 18, 2024

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Chet Baker was arrested at the Blue Note in Berlin: Video

In January 1964, trumpeter Chet Baker was arrested at the Blue Note in Berlin. Earlier, at a local pharmacy, he had foolishly tried to fill Jetrium prescriptions written by two different doctors – a sign of abuse or hoarding with an intent to sell. More commonly known as dextromoramide, Jetrium was a powerful opioid analgesic about three times as potent as morphine.

After his arrest, Baker was confined to a sanitarium for just over a month. Rather than jail him the way the Italians had done years earlier, Baker, in May, was driven to the Frankfurt airport and deported to the U.S. After arriving at New York’s JFK airport, he was met by federal narcotics agents who searched and interrogated him. As James Gavin writes about the episode in his biography of Baker, Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, one of the officers took pity on him and gave him a ride into Manhattan.

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Pity was a Baker specialty and had extracted cash from friends and strangers, second chances from law enforcement and recording sessions from producers. Baker’s first recording after returning to the States was The Most Important Jazz Album of 1964-65, a moderately overstated album for the Colpix label that Gavin points out was panned by Pete Welding of Down Beat: “It’s difficult to get excited over the Baker crew’s rewarming of old hash.” Following his appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival that July with Stan Getz, Baker toured for the balance of the year and lived off the kindness of friends and strangers.

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Toward the end of the year, Baker committed to record an album for Limelight Records, a jazz division of Mercury headed by producer Jack Tracy. Recorded over three sessions in January and February 1965, Baby Breeze featured three different groups. I’m uncertain why the album couldn’t be completed with one, but I suspect it had something to do with Baker’s habit and Tracy’s good-natured personality, which Baker may have abused.

The first session produced the best music by far and featured Chet Baker (flhrn), Frank Strozier (as,fl), Phil Urso (ts), Hal Galper (p), Michael Fleming (b) and Charlie Rice (d).

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The five songs recorded by this sextet on January 14th were robust hard-bop pieces in the tradition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Three of the them were written by Galper (above)—Pamela’s Passion, This Is the Thing and One With One. On these tracks, Baker’s playing had more fire than usual, with Strozier and Urso providing fluid reeds and Strozier adding a warm flue on tracks. But the standout on these songs is Galper’s piano.

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Galper attack packed plenty of bop energy but with modal touches that foreshadowed the abstract direction the keyboard would take in the fusion era to come. This is especially true on Galper’s One With One, where his articulation and chord voicings are reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s moodiness during this period.

The rest of Baby Breeze returns to Baker’s comfort zone—romantic ballads—and features more laid-back ensembles. While the balance show off Baker’s lyrical flugelhorn and plaintive vocals, the predictable material isn’t nearly as interesting as the album’s daring tracks with Galper.

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If you’re in New York this Saturday, Nov. 11, you can catch Hal Galper at Smalls with his quartet—alto saxophonist Nathan Bellott, bassist Dean Torrey and drummer David Frazier. The set starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information.

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