23.12. – Happy Birthday !!! A lifelong heroin habit might have wrecked the doomed-youth charisma of Chet Baker’s poster-boy looks, but his Miles Davis-inspired trumpet playing and eerily sepulchral crooning survived remarkably well until his death in 1988 at 58.
These moving live takes are impressively cleaned up from a cassette recording made at Covent Garden’s Canteen five years earlier, with Baker accompanied by a supple and sensitive local trio led by elegant John Dankworth pianist John Horler. Baker’s flicked-off trumpet trills and whoops constantly stretch and squeeze the beat between his graceful long lines, his softly strangulated vocal pleas are haunting on The Touch of Your Lips, and his mix of dawdles and sprints over Tony Mann’s cymbal beatlight up With a Song in My Heart. My Funny Valentine, always a Baker showstopper, is full of unexpected melodic choices while the tune always feels implied within the spaces. The odd cassette pitch-quivers surface here and there, but Live in London remains a compelling tribute to a flawed but inimitable jazz one-off.
Chet Baker, in his prime the James Dean of jazz, is shown as a musically gifted junkie, a childlike outsider and a needy jerk in a dreamy bio-drama from the Canadian writer-director Robert Budreau. The trumpeter is played by Ethan Hawke, who intimately and sensitively portrays a musician who always played it softly himself. We see an artist humbled and pained – only comfortable within his own blue notes and an accompanying heroin-based haze. Budreau constructs with imagination and pleasing fluidity, painting a portrait with a soft, sympathetic focus while steering clear of worship.