Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Tribute to Chet Baker@ the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival

Thursday, February 26

I have loved the song and music of Chet Baker, trumpetist and singer, ever since I was 'introduced' to him by my friend and jazz afficionado Eli Marcus way back in the 80s. I never heard him in person, but was lucky to meet (and briefly perform with) a Belgium sax player who had played with him .

Chet had an amazing gift for melody and rhythm. He also knew how to pick the most amazing songs that have stood the test of well over half a century - Gershwin (But Not for Me, Someone to Watch Over Me), Frank Loesser (I've Never Been in Love Before, Let's Get Lost),Jimmy van Heusen (Imagination, It could happen to you) Rogers and Hart (My heart stood still, Dancing on the Ceiling,and of course My Funny Valentine). You will find jazz musicians, and singers the world over still playing these tunes.

Chet had a knack of playing and singing these songs like no one before, or since. I just watched a video interview with Russ Freeman (one of Chet's mainstay pianists, dating back to his glorious younger days) in which he said that although Chet could read notes, he didn't care for the chord changes (maybe didn't even 'know' them) and started to play as soon someone told him what the first note was. Why am I writing this? I have long maintained that too many jazz teachers and institutes teach horn playing (in particular) according to the same 'school', and then most young horn players end up playing really well, but with licks remarkably similar to one another, and without their own 'voice'. Chet was one of those who found his own voice early on. Was it because of his collaborations with Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. I think not. He had his own musical brain which was unique. Was it because he wasn't into reading charts and chord changes? I think so. He had to find his own notes, and did he ever. Musicians and critics in the 50's (some of whom denigrated him for his singing, how petulant in retrospect) may have been jealous of his fame and glory (there were jazz police then, too), but they missed the point - he did his own thing and the audience responded.

Next Thursday evening (Feb. 26th, 8:30 p.m.) I am fortunate to be performing at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival (Cinemateque) with the great trumpet player Evgeny Verisotsky and a terrific band, in a tribute to Chet. We will sing and play his (and our) favorite songs, in his spirit. Chet, whatever the details of his troubled life and disputed personality, has had a great effect on my singing in particular. If you can't make it to the festival, check out his major influence in my most recent CD, "The Essential Mel". Whoever he was, demon, angel or both, he has brought me and many others great inspiration as a performer and listener.

I understand there are just a few tickets left, check out If you do come to the cinameteque on Thursday evening, be sure to wave hello! Don't expect us to play Chet's signature "My Funny Valentine". He took it with him.

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