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Chet Baker: His Life and Music Paperback – August, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

First published in Holland in 1989, and translated for the first time, this book is the only biography of Chet Baker (1929-88) available in English. De Valk's sympathetic yet gritty rendering of Baker's life blends well with his account of Baker's recording career. Somehow, the author, a Dutch jazz journalist, manages to avoid the lurid and sensationalistic aspects those having only a passing familiarity with the musician usually recount. Leading a wandering existence that included a scattering of wives and children across America, Baker is shown to be a master musician who communicated primarily through music. De Valk weaves excerpts from Baker's As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir (a chilling account of his music-making and life-long search for drugs, both seemingly of equal importance) with insights from Baker's family and friends, making sense of Baker's creativity. In his final years, he seemed inspired to play some of his finest music, so his death was that much more shocking to fans. Recommended for public, academic, and music libraries.DWilliam G. Kenz, Moorhead State Univ., MN
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"...solidly researched. De Valk has put together a believable portrait of Baker." -- JazzTimes March 2001

"Though it has an endearingly unfinished feel to it, like some of Baker's music, it's going to be definitive." -- Brian Priestley, Jazzwise, December 2000/January 2001

Jeroen de Valk's book, CHET BAKER: HIS LIFE AND MUSIC, is a classic of modern Jazz biography. -- Larry Nai, Cadence 27.1

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Berkeley Hills Books (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 189316313X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893163133
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,090,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Chet Baker: his life and times. J. de Valk
De Valk's new book on Chet Baker is both an excellent introduction to this musician for the neophyte and an invaluable overview of his music and life for the more experienced fan.
Baker's life, in its broader outlines, reads almost like a romantic Hollywood portrayal of a jazz musician. Highly photogenic, addicted to heroin and cocaine, purveyor of a dreamy, lyrical sound, yet largely self-taught, Baker lived what the general public may think of as the stereotypical jazz life of the 1950's. His highly lyrical sound grabbed many, reaching out and converting listeners on a first hearing. Fame came all too quickly, but then vanished with even greater rapidity. De Valk treats his subject with great objectivity, surveying the harrowing ups and downs, and quashing a few of the legends that sprang up around such a figure, especially the circumstances of his death.
Essential is the two-part discography in which de Valk overviews most, if not all of Baker's known recordings. The first part, "a selective discography" will prove the most important part of the book for younger fans as de Valk details and offers comment on many of Baker's most essential recordings. The second part, a full discography, lists all recordings and dates, subjected to a five-star rating system.
A choice selection of photos, including reproductions of many album covers, furthers the book's coverage. See in particular the eerily prescient shot of Baker practicing in a window ledge on p. 195.
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There are two types of biographies about Chet Baker: One type catagorizes Baker as a fantastic trumpet player who was partially responsible for the "cool jazz" sound, and the second type, a steadfast junkie who was completely over-rated as a trumpet player let alone a jazz musician.
This bio falls in the earlier catagory and rightfully so. Chet Baker played with such greats as Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond and more. You don't get to sit in with geniuses if you can't play, and Chet Baker could play. What both biographies do agree upon is that Chet Baker was incredibly handsome, had innate talent for the horn, and had loads of opportunities to elevate himself both morally and historically but failed to do so out of selfishness towards his drug habit which ultimately played a part in his death.
As to the book addressing his herion habit: Though the book chronicles it very throughly, it focuses more on his music accomplishmnets and personality rather than his addiction. (Chet's happiest moment in life was buying a Jaguar and racing it around all day long. It's my belief that Chet had a textbook case of Attetion Deficit Disorder and was proably self medicating himself so he could focus.)
The book has wonderful time-lines in it for both his life and his albums. There are loads of interviews with those on the sidleines who witnessed both his greatness and not-so-greatness. The grammar could be criticized once in a while but it is a good read.
Thus, this book is not only a god bio, but a great reference as to Chet Baker's accomplishments and history he helped create
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Format: Paperback
I read Chet Baker's book, As Though I had Wings, and was anxious to read Chet Baker: His Life and Music by Jeroen De Valk. The book was to come out in June but seems to have been delayed a few months but the wait was worth it. This is one of the best books on a jazz musician's life since Dorothy Baker wrote Young Man With a Horn. De Valk seems to have liked Chet a lot and that's important because so many articles,and interviews I've read by other musicians make it seem as if Chet had no friends or just used those that he did. Of course he was difficult and at times could try the patience of a saint but when he sat down to play oh what beautiful music came out of his soul. As De Valk points out many of Chet's records do not reflect the best he could do but he tells you which ones to listen to and which to avoid. At times Chet's life is tragic but there is a touch of the comic as well. I only met Chet Baker once and that was in 1952 at an after hours club in San Francisco. He was just 22 and quite possibly the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. Before I even heard him play it was love at first sight and after I became a Baker fan for life! Read this book and then turn out the lights, put one of Chet's recordings on and reflect on the beauty your hearing.
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Format: Paperback
The most crucial element in any non-fiction work is original research and an honest reporting of the results of such work, and that is exactly what Jeroen de Valk has done in his excellent biography of the legendary jazz genius Chet Baker. This fascinating and balanced picture of one of the greatest jazz artists of all time stands in stark contrast to the tragically flawed Gavin work, which has been decried by all but one of the Gavin interviewees as distorted, utterly false and omitting much of what was told to him in one-on-one encounters with musicians who had played with Chet, and with those knew him. It is telling that Interviews with some of Chet's closest friends were completed omitted

Thankfully, Mr. de Valk scrupulously investigates the life of his subject, and with great integrity, paints as complete a picture of Chet as possible, accurately recounting interviews with those who had known and had worked with the artist. Especially revealing is the transcript of Jeroen's meeting with Chet and Diane Vavra.

Since the most prevalent question in the minds of so many regarding the artist is what actually happened to cause the demise of Chet, the author begins with the end of Baker's life. This seems the logical approach. The myriad theories that have been put forth since that dark night in May of 1988 seem to be put to rest with de Valk's careful investigation of the circumstances revolving around Chet's death. Witness the author's going directly to the criminal inspector who covered the case to ascertain the facts,as an indication of his painstaking research, rather than repeating hearsay as has been done so often by others.
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