Sunday, May 13, 2012

Five Years Ago and 24 Years Ago

About 5 years ago I decided to pick up the trumpet. I had played in middle school and in high school. I pretty much quit when I went to UC Santa Cruz. There I would be busy as an undergraduate and later get into martial arts, which has been the focal point for my life. But a little bit before I picked up the horn once again I decided to buy a cd at a Starbucks. It was a Chet Baker collection, mainly from his earlier years, entitled "Too Cool". I took the cd to my car, put it into the stereo, and listened to the first song, "Let's Get Lost". Mainly what struck me was Baker's vocal. He put so much feeling and intensity into what was outwardly a very laid back delivery. I had never heard a voice or a delivery like that. So I started listening to the cd and learning the words to some of the vocals. I got a couple of collections of other Baker cds. And began to think about about taking up the trumpet once again. So on May 5th(cinco de Mayo) of 2007 I got a rental instrument, went back to the cottage I was in at that time, and tried to play. I remember feeling very stupid and nothing seemed to come out well. After a rocky start I remember thinking I should  just quit. Then suddenly a line from "Let's Get Lost" had a good flow  to it. I think the memory of those notes kept me going during that initial period.

What I found was that Baker's playing and singing were virtually the same. He was not a high note specialist or someone who was flashy. The notes from his horn could be soft and yet burn right into your soul. And he could play incredibly fast if he wanted to, but it all whether fast or slow was always lyrical. So initially it was hard for me to make a sound, but from the beginning I could put on a cd of his and free form along with him. One of the reasons I quit years ago was that I would try to improvise and couldn't. But 40 years of aikido seemed to have opened me up to where I could begin to do that. And years ago I would try to put feeling into the playing and would over do it. Something had changed. So here I am 5 years later still playing.

It was 24 years ago today that Baker died. It seems he fell out of a second story apartment in Amsterdam, would not have died but that he hit his head on a telephone pole on the way down. Though he was in his 59th year his face was covered in blood and it was reported that a 30 year old trumpeter(they found his horn in his apartment) had died falling out of an apartment. Bruce Peterson when he was in Amsterdam shot these photos and e-mailed them to me. One is the hotel Baker stayed in and the other is a plaque now outside the hotel that commemorates his passing. Minor coincidences are that I started almost within a week of the anniversary of his death and that he died in his 59th year and in my 59th year I took up the trumpet once again.

This is a song Dennis and I recorded on Saturday. Nardis is a Miles Davis piece. Chet played a lot of Miles Davis pieces and apparently was very influenced by Davis album"Birth of the Cool".  And in his autobiography "As Though I Had Wings" Baker admits to years later still listening quite frequently to that album. And though to some extent they may appear to sound similar, Davis was a graduate of the Juillard School of Music. Baker was totally self-taught. Davis went on to explore many different modes of expression. Baker stayed true  to his inner sense of lyricism. He once said if something lacked "lyrical meaning", he wasn't interested. I hope you enjoy the piece:


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