Chet Baker

Despite a tumultuous career, Chet Baker has managed to become one of the most well-respectived jazz musicians of the mid-twentieth century. Born in Oklahoma in 1929 to a musical family, Baker began singing in church before his father gave him a trombone. The instrument proved too cumbersome and Baker switched to the trumpet; he studied music in school until he enlisted in the US Army at sixteen. He served in Germany and played with the 298th Army Band through 1948, after which he went to Los Angeles and studied music theory. He reenlisted and was discharged a final time in 1951 to focus on music professionally. The following year, he began playing with Charlie Parker, after which he joined the Gerry Mulligan piano-less quartet. Bolstered by his good looks, Baker began acting in 1955 and was frequently the winner of major jazz magazine polls and awards. Through the end of the 1950s, as he began using heroin, Baker became a hallmark of the West Coast jazz scene, toured Europe, and made regular recordings for Pacific and Riverside. He was arrested multiple times on drugs charges through the early 1960s and, in 1966, an assault resulted in the permanent alteration of his embouchure. He fixed his teeth with dentures and moved to New York City before relocating, essentially permanently, to Europe in 1978. Until his death in 1988, Baker continued performing and recording. His posthumous induction into the DownBeat Hall of Fame the following year cemented the importance of his observably troubled but crucial career.