Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost

“Let’s Get Lost” is not only a song that Chet Baker performed on but also the title of a 1988 documentary of the same name. Baker died that year. Let’s Get Lostย was nominated for anย Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1989.

Chet Baker was born in Oklahoma in December of 1929. Lucky fella that he always was, this was just a few months after the stock market crashed. His father was a professional guitarist and his mother was a pianist. Due to the Great Depression, his father had to quit playing music and take a “regular job.”

Chet used to sing in the church choir and in fact, even sang on a fair amount on his albums. His father gave him a trombone because – according to Chet – Jack Teagarden was his old man’s favorite musician. But that was replaced with a trumpet when Chet found the trombone too big, too awkward. After “falling in love” with the trumpet, he improved noticeably in two weeks, starting to pick up on songs like Harry James’s “Two O’Clock Jump.”

Chet joined the Army and – since the war was over – never saw combat, only playing in the Army Band. He was discharged from the Army in 1951 and – at the age of 22 –ย  decided to go into music.ย He became a member of the Sixth Army Band at the Presidio in San Francisco.ย 

A natural talent, He soon fell in with Charlie Parker who was in the throes of addiction in California at that time. He then sat in with Gerry Mulligan and became part of his quartet for a few years. He recorded a couple of albums with Mulligan and was a rising star not only for his playing but for his leading man looks. Women went nuts for him and he was “friendly” with not a few Hollywood starlets.

Chet’s take on the standard “My Funny Valentine” is so notable it was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for the song’s “cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nationโ€™s audio legacy.”

You can find it today on the 1953 album Gerry Mulligan Quartet Volume 2.

Spotify link

Chet also played with Stan Getz although rumor has it they weren’t the best of friends, just fellow junkies. These guys helped develop a style called “West Coast Jazz” that was supposedly notably cooler and more laid-back than East Coast. But I don’t know, their take on “Yardbird Suite” sounds pretty hot to me. (The album West Coast Live was recorded in 1953 but wasn’t released until 1997.)

Spotify link

Chet had those sharp good looks that the camera (and women) loved. He made his way to Hollywood and made a few films, none of them ever on Roger Ebert’s must-see list. His film debut was in the “classic” 1955 war film Hell’s Horizon which starred Hugh Beaumont who went on to play Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver. Hollywood later made a movie called All the Fine Young Cannibals with Robert Wagner and spouse Natalie Wood. This movie was “loosely based” on Baker’s life.

I mentioned earlier that Chet used to sing on his albums. He was no Sinatra but he had a nice enough voice and his singing informed his “lyrical” playing. This song “But Not For Me” is from, well, Chet Baker Sings released in 1954.

Spotify link

If you know Chet Baker’s name at all it’s as likely you know it for his junk habit as anything else. Sometimes he’d pawn his instruments to buy drugs and he had all sorts of problems in Europe. He was actually deported from Germany at one point. In the late 60s, he was beaten by a gang while trying to buy drugs.

Legend has it that his teeth were knocked but at the very least his face was fucked up and he suffered a broken tooth or two. That ruined his embouchure which is “the use of the lips, facial muscles, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument.” He later had to relearn to play while wearing dentures. In the meantime, he had to pump gas “7 am to 11 pm” just to make ends meet.

Eventually, someone remembered him and he got himself a gig at the now-defunct Half Note Club in New York City. This led him back to Europe and from the 70s to the 80s he embarked on his most prolific – if hardly noticed – era. His leading man looks were ravaged by drugs -which he never gave up – but he managed to eke out some sort of living. (I should mention here that Chet also managed to marry three times and produce four good-looking kids, some of whom show up in the documentary.)

One of Chet’s best albums, in fact, was recorded and released in 1974. The LP was called She Was Too Good To Me and features Hubert Laws, Bob James, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Jack de Johnette, and Paul Desmond. “Autumn Leaves” is a great version of the standard featuring Gadd on drums and Desmond (“Take Five”) on sax:

Spotify link

Getting out of that jazz space for a little bit, Elvis Costello – who has a wide range of musical tastes – loved Baker’s playing and invited him to play on his 1983 song “Shipbuilding.” Nice song (one of my wife’s favorites) and nice work here by Baker who adds poignancy to anything he plays:

Spotify link

Wikipedia: “Early on May 13, 1988, Baker was found dead on the street below his room in Hotel Prins Hendrik, Amsterdam, with serious wounds to his head, apparently having fallen from the second-story window. Heroin andย cocaineย were found in his room and in his body. There was no evidence of a struggle, and the death was ruled an accident.

According to another account, he inadvertently locked himself out of his room and fell while attempting to cross from the balcony of the vacant adjacent room to his own. There is a plaque outside the hotel in his memory.”

If you look hard enough, you might find a video called Chet Baker: Live at Ronnie’s Scott’s London. This features Baker with a band and with Van Morrison sitting in on vocals and Elvis Costello interviewing him.

I’ll leave you here with Chet singing Elvis’ “Almost Blue” from Let’s Get Lost. I couldn’t find it on Spotify so I hope you can hear this. I probably haven’t done near enough justice to Chet’s significant output so I’m adding in a Spotify playlist. (Which includes “Let’s Get Lost.”)

18 thoughts on “Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost

  1. As usual you give me history on someone I really dig and have been listening to for years. I have a bio on him that I’ve been saving ‘Deep In A Dream’. CB likes Jack Teagarden also. He never strayed to far off his bread and butter. I really like his sound and it worked on the Costello cut. I remember how cool that was when I bought that album. I’m with your wife on this one.
    He’s all over those CTI albums from that era. Great stuff. I have a lot of Chet in my pile as a leader and as a sideman.
    He was another of the casualties of the addiction like. Horrible. The doc interviews his family, if I remember correctly. It puts a real face on how messed up and the trail of disaster that the lifestyle leaves. Love his music style, not his lifestyle. Tough subject.

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    1. ‘Deep in a Dream’ came up in my research. The passage I read was pretty harrowing. It sounds like you’ve seen the documentary. Any memories of besides the interviews? I wondered what you thought of it from a filmic perspective. Black and white, noirish.
      As to his lifestyle, I don’t know what it is about musicians but they sure like to get fucked up. I remember there was a picture or a clip you once showed me that had a sax guy passed out on the stand. Heroin was THE thing for the jazz guys. They all wanted to be Charlie Parker. If he did it, they’d do it too. Even Clapton admitted he was trying to be like his blues heroes. How fucking juvenile is that? The lifestyle is one of many reasons I never went into music as a profession. Too loosey-goosey, too prone to that kind of shit. I’d rather be healthy and boring than be wasted and ‘cool.’
      But Chet man, he was the real thing. I have a deeper appreciation for his playing after this post.

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      1. I liked the doc and the way it’s shot but it’s hard for me to watch people in the midst of mental illness and drug addiction when it’s not being treated. Healthy people dont fall off balconies or get their teeth knocked out hanging with good people. Jazz musicians were hard core with booze and drugs. Yeah that clip I sent was Paul Gonsalves with Duke. Drugs and booze were around in a big way before Bird, he just gets more press. I think you made a wise choice Doc but there are lots of healthy people making good music. I never knew about his film ventures. Back before he looked like a walking corpse. But the guy could play sweet.
        Listen to this piece Doc. It will counter balance the nasty side. What a beautiful piece of music. From the same wheelhouse of the other cut you posted.

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        1. That’s a long piece. I’ll have to give it a spin later. Jim Hall was one of the guys he connected with after he (temporarily) got his shit together.
          I don’t think I really knew who Baker was when I heard him on the Costello cut but I dug it.
          I really wonder if he fell out that window. From what I read it was pretty tricky to do. Maybe he’d had enough and jumped.
          You’re correct in that (especially these days) there are a lot of smarter substance-free people making music. But it’s always been prevalent and back in the day it was rampant. The music lifestyle on the road just from the little I’ve seen and read about is a lotta boredom till you get to that stage. And people try to get to celebs and bring them dope just to get close to them. During that one-week Allmans trip I went on, I didn’t so much as smoke a J. But I was in the “square” group because of that I think. Lots of peer group pressure, overt or covert. The band’s bass player at the time – Allen Woody – used to come on our bus with Warren Haynes and go in back and get high. He’s dead.
          I just read Pete Townshend’s book and he talks about some keyboard player. They walked into a studio and there was a line of coke laid out for everybody. The self-centered fuck snorted it all up himself.
          As to film, Chet was so good-looking that Hollywood wanted him. But I think most of his movies were cheesy Italian ones where he could make a quick buck and score.
          I think the saddest people are those who just – no matter what they do – cannot kick drugs or alcohol and it invariably kills them.
          I did my time with dope. My drug of choice now is caffeine. And of course, music.

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        2. Yes it’s long. Grab a cup of java, relax and listen to some good music. Some tasty guitar and Chet and Paul do some nice work. More for your library ( Like you need it)
          Road work and night work. Bad combo or good for the party lifestyle. I think your second last paragraph sums up Baker. Another one was Art Pepper. His book ‘Straight Life’ is a Doc read.
          (Where is everybody on this take. Is he that obscure that he’s not on peoples radar? Is it jazz? I know you have the stats on views figured out. Did you get your usual number?)

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        3. Jersey said something interesting when I first started. He said even if I reach one person it’s a good thing. You already knew Baker but now you’re pumped for more. But I’ve been slowly getting through to Christian who didn’t like jazz at all. That’s a really good thing. The mission continues.
          CB underestimates himself. He’s way more popular than a turd.

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        4. Oh yeah. We do it because we love it Doc. If people tune in and pick up some new music great. I know I have picked up a bunch since I started this. Some off of the ME page.
          How about a maggot on a wedding cake.

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    1. Yeah they’re a fucking disaster. I think some people have a genetic predisposition and they just can’t shake it. Amy Winehouse. Philip Seymour Hoffman. The list goes on. I know you’re not a jazz guy but think about giving that Elvis Costello tune a spin to hear the beauty of his playing.

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