Saturday, November 24, 2018

Chet Baker - 1958 - It Could Happen To You

Chet Baker
It Could Happen To You

01. Do It The Hard Way 2:57
02. I'm Old Fashioned 5:00
03. You're Driving Me Crazy 2:52
04. It Could Happen To You 2:48
05. My Heart Stood Still 3:24
06. The More I See You 3:01
07. Everything Happens To Me 5:01
08. Dancing On The Ceiling 3:05
09. How Long Has This Been Going On? 4:06
10. Old Devil Moon 2:54

Bass – George Morrow (tracks: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8), Sam Jones (tracks: 3, 4, 6, 9)
Drums – Philly Joe Jones (tracks: 1, 2, 5 to 8), Dannie Richmond (tracks: 3, 4, 9)
Piano – Kenny Drew
Trumpet, Vocals – Chet Baker

Recorded in New York; August, 1958.

The ultra-hip and sophisticated "cool jazz" that Chet Baker (trumpet/vocals) helped define in the early '50s matured rapidly under the tutelage of producer Dick Bock. This can be traced to Baker's earliest sides on Bock's L.A.-based Pacific Jazz label. This album is the result of Baker's first sessions for the independent Riverside label. The Chet Baker Quartet featured on Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen to You includes Kenny Drew (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). (Performances by bassist George Morrow and drummer Dannie Richmond are featured on a few cuts.) This results in the successful combination of Baker's fluid and nonchalant West Coast delivery with the tight swinging accuracy of drummer Jones and pianist Drew. Nowhere is this balance better displayed than the opening and closing sides on the original album, "Do It the Hard Way" and "Old Devil Moon," respectively. One immediate distinction between these vocal sides and those recorded earlier in the decade for Pacific Jazz is the lissome quality of Baker's playing and, most notably, his increased capacity as a vocalist. The brilliant song selection certainly doesn't hurt either. This is an essential title in Chet Baker's 30-plus year canon. 

Orrin Keepnews, the owner of the Riverside label, had "inherited" Chet Baker through a deal his partner Bill Grauer had made with Pacific Jazz, Baker's previous label. Keepnews was never too happy with this deal, and tried to find various ways of selling the former star, whose fame was already in decline, to an audience. The first album was to be an entirely vocal album, an attempt to recreate the blissfully innocent Chet Baker Sings from a few years earlier. Unfortunately, Baker had in the meantime lost his innocence.

This album received quite a barrage of negative criticism. By 1958, the critics, who had never really liked his singing in the first place, no longer had to deal with a poll winner and audience's darling, but with a known heroin addict, and consequently they spared no gunfire when they attacked his "thin voice" and "thick Oklahoma drawl" through which you could allegedly not even understand the words, but neither of which is really all that noticeable on this recording.

Like Baker's other albums for Riverside, most notably Chet, this is not bad, but also not completely satisfying. One feels the tension between Baker and Keepnews, who allegedly caught him breaking into the record company's warehouse in search of something to convert into drug money; producer Grauer doesn't seem to be all that interested in giving the recording his full attention either. As for Baker, he's totally spot-on on some tracks ("Do It the Hard Way", "My Heart Stood Still") and rather absent-minded on others.

Still, overall this is a bunch of perfectly enjoyable standards, and Oklahoma drawl or not, I personally think that Baker's singing has actually improved over his 1954/55/56 vocal recordings for Pacific Jazz. The ensemble here (featuring Kenny Drew, George Morrow, Philly Joe Jones and Danny Richmond, no less) is also much tighter and more attentive, and the pullovers on the cheesy cover are quite a hoot. Even if you think the music on this album is not worthy of being in your collection, the pullovers really should be.

Chet Baker had a distinctive trumpet style that even Miles admired, but many may not know he was also quite accomplished as a singer. Judging by the cover (Baker’s good looks were always prominently featured on his releases), the A&R people at Riverside saw an opportunity to market Baker as a romantic crooner along the lines of Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. This is surprising, considering his fragile, colorless vocals certainly don’t immediately call to mind someone who could sing at all. Nevertheless, Baker’s haunting vocal delivery remains one of the most underrated pleasures in jazz.
Unlike the earlier Pacific releases, which featured Baker’s vocals and trumpet playing in equal measures, the 1958 record It Could Happen To You focuses mainly on vocals. Backed by a stellar East Coast rhythm section that glides over the changes like figure skaters (Drew in particular responds with delicate accompaniment), Baker delivers deeply moving renditions of standards. The best songs are ballads like “Everything Happens To Me” and “While My Lady Sleeps”, which are perfectly suited to Baker’s vulnerable delivery and are achingly beautiful, a soundtrack to rainy nights at home alone with a bottle of Scotch. The up-tempo numbers feature more trumpet soloing and are charged with mellow phrasing and a keen sense of melody, demonstrating why Baker was admired by so many of his peers. 

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