sexta-feira, 9 de outubro de 2009

Chet Baker

Chet Baker knew the jazz life in all its ugliness. Bruce Weber loved him for it. Want to understand both men? See "Let's Get Lost" at the Ken beginning tomorrow for a week.

Baker was Cool when it mattered, his music a feather on the wind. He played trumpet. And he sang, in a little voice full of romance and longing. He was James Dean before Dean was, a wild kid from Oklahoma who was a natural at playing jazz. No one seems to know why.

Charlie Parker, who hired Baker before anyone heard of Baker, told Miles Davis to watch out for that little white kid on the West Coast. He knew how to play, Bird said. Miles didn't believe him.

Someone once said Baker sounded like Miles. No way. His tone was in that soft, dark middle range like Miles', but Baker was vulnerable. Miles was in your face, even with that tone. Miles played a lilting "My Funny Valentine" that burned with tension. Baker sang it and made you cry.

Bruce Weber is a photographer, mostly fashion. You know his work for ads like Calvin Klein. Dark romantic shots of men, mostly, often in briefs. He loved dark tones and soft sensuality. No wonder he loved Chet Baker.


In the late 1980s he shot a film that looked like his photographs. He called it "Let's Get Lost" and it was a kind of documentary on Baker. It's not anything close to linear. It's scattered. The sound is all over the place. It's difficult to stay with. But it was all about Chesney Henry Baker Jr ... forever Chet.

That's another thing about Baker. He was beautiful. Women loved him. Men wanted to be him, or with him.

In the mid-1950s, Baker was the trumpet player in jazz. Not Dizzy. Not Miles. Chet. There was plenty of resentment about that. Jazz was black music. Chet was white and he forever had to live down that resentment.

Baker was most popular as a musician when he played in what was then an original idea, a pianoless quartet with baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan. That lasted less than two years in fact, but for many jazz fans, it was Baker's entire career. That's all he was, that warm trumpet in Mulligan's band. They must not have ever heard Chet Baker sing.

Later Chet had trouble getting gigs, so much of his nomadic life was spent in Europe, when he could. Most countries wouldn't let him in. Chet was a heroin addict. A bad heroin addict and he was, if not proud of it, at least not unhappy about it. He loved the rush. It drove him from gig to gig, drug deal to drug deal. He gigged to get drugs. Drugs and music, that was Chet Baker.

In all its black-and-white beauty, "Let's Get Lost" captures that life Chet Baker lived. He cooperated in the filming. So did many of the women he lived with or married, and there were many of them, mostly unimportant things to Baker. They were just people to be with between gigs and drugs.

And those drugs killed that beauty, that outward exterior that Bruce Weber so obviously loved. To see Chet as a young man was inspiring. They made movies about him. "All the Fine Young Cannibals" with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner was one.

To see him after the drugs, and after the beatings he took from dealers who knew he was a trumpet player so they knocked out his teeth, was horrific. Weber gets all that on film, that and the pain he caused those he was closest to in life, like his kids.

Chet died in 1988 before "Let's Get Lost" was originally released. He fell, or was pushed, from the upper stories of a hotel in Amsterdam. Suicide? Not Chet, he actually loved his life. Murder? Maybe, but most people think he was probably just sitting in the window and nodded out.

"Let's Get Lost" is not an easy film to watch. A lot of that is because Weber is not really a filmmaker. It's unfocused. The sound is of little importance, the story disjointed. But it's beautiful to see. It's beautiful to watch Chet Baker . . . and to hear him play his warm trumpet and sing in the little, vulnerable voice.

Let's get lost, lost in each others arms
Let's get lost, let them send out alarms
And if they think we're rather rude
We'll tell the world we're in a crazy mood
Let's defrost, in a romantic mist
Let's get crossed, off everybody's list
We'll tell the world that we have found each other
Darling, let's get lost


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