Chet Baker Sings “Almost Blue”

chet baker 1983
Chet Baker, 1983 (image:Michiel Hendryckx)

Listen to this track by James Dean-meets-Sinatra-meets-Bix-Beiderbecke jazz amalgam and legend in his own right Chet Baker. It’s “Almost Blue”, a latter-day standard for Baker as featured prominently in the film Let’s Get Lost and also featured on the live album Chet Baker Live In Tokyo, recorded in 1987 and released posthumously the next year. 

That movie was a documentary about Baker, who had risen in prominence in the fifties, initially in his associations with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and with the West Coast jazz scene in general. But, Baker had also played with east coast musicians, too, including Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Baker had even caught the eye of the movie industry, thanks to his almost supernatural good looks. In addition to all of that, Baker was a gifted trumpeter, and hauntingly nuanced vocalist. He was known for his melancholic tone with both voice and instrument, making his name by playing standards that were tinged with tragedy; “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “The Thrill Is Gone”, and “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, being prime examples.

Maybe that’s why this tune, written by Elvis Costello with Chet Baker in mind, fit so well into his musical wheelhouse, eventually becoming a stalwart concert favourite during the last phase of his career. Yet, the theme of dissatisfaction and loss seemed to go beyond the material. Baker seems to embody it, and for good reason. By the eighties, Baker had seen it all. To many, it was a miracle that he would be able to tell about it, probably including Chet Baker. Read more

Blossom Dearie Sings ‘Figure 8’

Here’s a clip of underrated jazz darling, and recently departed Blossom Dearie with her contribution to Generation X pop culture – her rendition of the Schoolhouse Rock baroque-pop classic “Figure 8”.  From the early 1970s to the end of the decade, the Schoolhouse Rock series  used music as an educational delivery device.  Yet, along the way it produced some memorable tunes.  This is my favourite.

And this is my first experience with Blossom Dearie, only having discovered years and years later that she’d been a respected jazz musician, particularly on standards like “I Won’t Dance”, “Thou Swell”, and “Lover Man”, among many others.  She debuted on vinyl in 1956, with her self-titled album Blossom Dearie her little girl voice and schoolteacher looks separating her from the usual crowd.

She enjoyed a career which spanned the 1950s to our present decade,  having initially signed to the illustrious Verve label, discovered by label boss, promoter, and impresario Norman Grantz after a stint in Paris where she made her way as a cocktail pianist.  She would be a live fixture in New York supper clubs, and in London as well, for many years, only retiring from live performances three years ago due to ill-health  And maybe the best part – Blossom Dearie was her real name.

But as a child, I knew her voice from this song, watching Saturday morning cartoons and these little musical vignettes about math, grammar, and American history – Schoolhouse Rock. As great as the educational content is, what I was left with was the crystalline beauty of this tune, a real wintry melody much like that of a music box.  It’s a bit sad, a bit spacey, and both of its time and timeless at the same time.  And Blossom Dearie’s voice is perfect for this – gentle, delicate, yet sure.   And I think this is true of her approach to everything she sang.

She died a few days ago in Greenwich Village in her sleep.

Goodbye, Blossom – thanks for ‘Figure 8’.  Place it on its side and its a symbol meaning infinity.

For more Blossom Dearie, check out this Blossom Dearie MySpace page.