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Posts tagged ‘Chet Baker’

Chet Baker at the Canteen

Chet Baker at the CanteenThe Canteen was a jazz club at 4 Great Queen Street, on the eastern fringe of Covent Garden: a narrow single-fronted space on the ground floor, backing on to Parker Street. It functioned for probably not much more than a year in the early 1980s, after which it became Blitz, the headquarters of the New Romantics, then Browns, a sort of celebrity discothèque. Now it’s a “gentlemen’s club” called the Red Rooms. Among the musicians I saw there during its jazz incarnation were Ahmad Jamal, Slim Gaillard, Lee Konitz, Howard McGhee, Bill Perkins and Esther Phillips, who was backed by a tidy little band including Tim Hinkley on keyboards and Mel Collins on tenor saxophone. The club’s energetic publicist was a man called K.C. Sulkin, whose father had been a society bandleader in Boston between the wars.

Chet Baker’s week at the club in March 1983 was among the highlights of its short life. If you needed proof that he was always more than just a Great White Hope, here it was. “The former golden boy of the cool school has come through the fire,” I wrote in a review for The Times, “but you would not know it from his playing at the Canteen.” Accompanied by an excellent local rhythm section — John Horler (piano), Jim Richardson (bass) and Tony Mann (drums) — and sitting sidelong to the audience, his improvising was serious and creative and full of substance.

Luckily, and with Baker’s permission, Richardson recorded the engagement on a Sony cassette machine. Now, more than three decades later, the tapes have been disinterred, professionally restored and released as a two-CD set. The sound is excellent and the quality of the playing compares favourably, I would say, with the recordings from Paris, Tokyo and Hannover (1981, 1987 and 1988 respectively) on which I wrote in a post about Chet a while ago.

The trumpeter’s tone on tunes like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, Hal Galper’s “Margarine”, Richie Beirach’s “Leaving” and the standards — including “I’ll Remember April”, “Have You Met Miss Jones?” and “With a Song in My Heart” — is firm and confident, the lines long, the phrasing fluent. By this point in his life, 30 years after first recording it with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, he had played “My Funny Valentine” so many times that you would have expected his interpretation to be threadbare; here, in the course of a long solo, he investigates its familiar contours as if exploring them for the first time, shaping his double- and triple-time runs with such elegance that it’s easy to forgive him for running out of steam in the closing bars, before handing over to Horler.

The rhythm section is alert and resilient throughout the recording, exemplary in its collective command of the appropriate post-bop approach. So it was a treat to see the trio reassembled for the first time in 33 years at Ronnie Scott’s last week to celebrate the album’s imminent release, and playing just as well. They were joined by the trumpeter Quentin Collins, the tenorist Leo Richardson and the singer Norma Winstone to pay tribute to Baker by reprising the repertoire from the Canteen sessions. Wisely, Collins did not attempt an imitation, evoking the spirit rather than the manner (his personal stylistic compass points him closer to Lee Morgan territory). On “Beatrice”, Richardson’s middleweight sound and mobility reminded me a little of Hank Mobley, which can’t be bad. Winstone delivered “The Touch of Your Lips” and “My Ideal” with characteristic grace.

A few days earlier I’d been to see Ethan Hawke portraying Baker in Robert Budreau’s film Born to Be Blue. Like Don Cheadle impersonating Miles Davis in the recent Miles Ahead, Hawke gives an honest and sincere performance, at times genuinely touching. There are several good scenes, but the apparent need to modify the narrative to fit a Hollywood feature-film template diminishes rather than enhances the story. Your money would be better spent on Chet Baker Live in London, a valuable souvenir of an interesting week.

* Chet Baker Live in London will be released on the Ubuntu label on October 28.

Dick Twardzik 30/4/31–21/10/55

Dick_TwardzikTomorrow evening it will be exactly 60 years since the pianist and composer Dick Twardzik was found dead in his room at the Hôtel de la Madeleine on the Rue de Surène, in Paris’s 8th arrondissement. He was on tour in Europe with the Chet Baker Quartet, and the previous night they had played at the Club Tabu, where they were joined by the great Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin. After returning to the hotel in the early hours, they were due to reconvene at 4pm for a recording session at the Pathé-Magellan studio. When, after an hour, he hadn’t showed up, a search party went back to the hotel and his body was discovered. A heroin overdose had killed him. He was 24 years old.

Twardzik was a prodigy. Born in Boston, the son of two artists, he had studied with Madame Margaret Chaloff of the New England Conservatory of Music, a renowned teacher who is better known to jazz fans as the mother of Serge Chaloff, one of the great post-war baritone saxophonists. Serge and Dick would play and record together. And share a heroin habit that eventually killed the other man, too.

By the time Twardzik was 21, he was good enough to play with Charlie Parker. You can hear the results on Boston 1952, a Parker album compiled from radio broadcasts recorded at the Hi-Hat Club and released on the Uptown label a few years ago. Symphony Sid Torin, the radio show’s announcer, can’t get the young man’s name right, but listen to the wonderful inventiveness of the piano solo on a relaxed “Don’t Blame Me”, to the way he spins out his double-time lines, shaping them so beautifully, allowing them to float and curl and wind before moving into a passage of contrapuntal and parallel lines, followed by the lightest of block chords. By that time, he had already been using heroin for three years.

After Bud Powell, he might have become Parker’s most stimulating keyboard partner, if they’d both lived and been given time to develop their partnership. Twardzik’s ear and imagination, and his knowledge of modern classical music, would surely have appealed to Bird, and might have inspired an escape from the bebop cul-de-sac into which Parker was heading by the time of his own death in 1955.

But that’s speculation. What we know is that Twardzik made a brilliant set of trio recordings for the Pacific Jazz in October 1954, half a dozen tracks first issued as one side of an LP called Trio which he shared with the group of Russ Freeman, his predecessor as Baker’s pianist, who had brought him to the attention of the label’s boss, Dick Bock. The tracks, with one addition, were later released by themselves as The Last Set. There are three standards — “Round Midnight”, “I’ll Remember April” and “Bess You is My Woman” — along with three of his own compositions, all of them immediately striking, and not just for their titles: “Albuquerque Social Swim”, “Yellow Tango”, “A Crutch for the Crab”. They’re as full of playful character and unexpected twists as those of Herbie Nichols — a comparison that also strikes Alexander Hawkins, the English pianist, who is a student of such matters and a confirmed Twardzik fan. Thinking you might like a break from my views, I asked Alex for a few words. Here’s some of what he sent me:

For me, he fits squarely within that magical clutch of pianists from mid-century who are just so wonderfully sui generis (Monk, Powell, Hope, Nichols, and a few years later, the likes of Hasaan etc). I think it naturally comes out most clearly in his compositions; and to me it’s extraordinary to reflect that we can get such a strong sense of a radical original from so few works. However, it’s also fascinating to listen to him play standards: his arranger’s touch was such that he could make such a ‘standard’ standard as “I’ll Remember April” all his own – in the way he mysteriously stalks the notes of the first eight bars of this over the swinging drums, I hear a weird pre-echo of Misha (Mengelberg) and Han (Bennink).

I love the headlong intensity and clarity of purpose, despite such knotty compositions: in this I hear a real kinship with Bud Powell (“Glass Enclosure”, etc). There’s also clearly an affinity with Bartok, Hindemith, and so on; and I hear elements of Bernstein and Sondheim, too. I can also hear a possible line through to early Cecil Taylor. In the way both composers graft together different melodic/rhythmic strands, I hear some deep similarity with (especially pre-Unit Structures) Cecil: in particular, I’m thinking of the session which produced ‘Pots’, ‘Bulbs’, and ‘Mixed’, and also tunes like ‘Excursion on a Wobbly Rail’. I also hear a kinship with Cecil in the love of contrary motion figures.

The historical context also fascinates me too: just like with Bird, Hasaan, Nichols – where on earth could this music have gone had he lived? It’s so much at the vanguard of what seemed possible at the time that trying to put oneself in contemporary shoes as far as possible and hearing the future directions is completely baffling, and as such, deeply inspiring as a player and composer.

After Twardzik arrived in Le Havre on the liner Île-de-France on September 13 with the rest of Baker’s rhythm section — the bassist Jimmy Bond and the drummer Peter Littman — and met up with the trumpeter, the band began their tour at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (supported by the Tony Crombie All Stars!) and continued through Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France. There were 10 concerts in all, several of which were recorded and are available on various bootlegs. In Paris on October 11 and 14 they also recorded the nine tracks — eight compositions by Bob Zieff, a friend of Twardzik’s from Boston, and one by the pianist himself — that would make up one of the most remarkable small-group records of the 1950s.

Zieff’s cool little pieces have wonderful beatnik titles: “Rondette”, “Mid-Forte”, “Sad Walk”, “Pomp”, “Brash”. Perfectly balanced and slightly formal modernist mechanisms, they’re clean-lined but unpredictable, absolutely devoid of any hint of cliché (jazz or otherwise), stretching the musicians — particularly the trumpeter and pianist — in interesting ways without inducing contortions. It’s no surprise to discover that Gil Evans later became a fan of the composer, and a terrible shame that he was destined to remain in obscurity. And Twardzik’s tune, “The Girl from Greenland”, is typically intriguing and memorable.

Issued on the Barclay label in France soon afterwards, this set is still available and is, I’d say, essential — not just for itself, but also because it represents the last view we would ever get of a great talent taken away, like so many others, by a plague that is still with us, and still taking lives.

* If you want to know more, I warmly recommend Jack Chambers’ excellent biography, Bouncin’ with Bartok: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik, published in Canada by the Mercury Press in 2008, from which the photograph is taken. There’s also an interesting CD of Twardzik’s home rehearsal recordings called 1954 Improvisations, all variations on standards, released by the New Artists label in 1990. Recordings of the Baker Quartet’s concerts in Cologne, Amsterdam and elsewhere are available on various bootlegs.

A poem by Roy Kelly

Roy Kelly’s work appears from time to time in the kind of magazines that still print poetry (there’s one of his in this week’s Spectator). He was born in 1949, and Peterloo Poets published a collection of his work under the title Drugstore Fiction in 1987. Having read my piece on Chet Baker, he sent me this. I wanted to publish it before the summer ends, and he was kind enough to give me permission.


The folded parasols stand guard and stand by,

sentinels of the pool and sunbeds, swathes

of white material fluttering, gathered, ready to spring

up and out, defending this tender skin which bathes

in water, and also in damaging rays that fly

through millions of miles to inflame and sting.

And in the pool a figure is moving through

the ruffled, bubbled surface, the illusory

blue depths, trying to improve a swimming action

while remembering a Chet Baker solo,

the shapely lovely logic of all he blew,

placed note by note, as if physical effort had no

part in his disciplined, pretty perfection,

and the needle life some other loser’s story.

Puffing and chugging the salty outdoor pool

the swimmer tries at least to get the breathing right,

economical, smooth, under the watchful white

umbrellas, and Mr Chet, lyrical, pure and cool.

The long “Good-Bye”

Good-ByeAccording to Martha Tilton, a featured singer with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the late 1930s, Gordon Jenkins wrote “Good-Bye” — which became Goodman’s sign-off theme — after the death of his first wife in childbirth. No wonder Alec Wilder, in his magisterial survey American Popular Song, called it “as sad a song as I know”. It is also, Wilder noted, a thing of remarkable beauty. So beautiful, in fact, that I’ve taken to collecting versions of it, and there are many, since it is a song that appeals strongly to jazz musicians of a certain sensibility, not least for providing the illusion of being through-composed, rather than repeating its individual sections in the AABA manner of conventional standards.

Goodman recorded it for the Victor label in 1935; the label describes it as a Fox Trot, in this case a distinctly gentle and smoochy one (and here it is). Since there is no vocal refrain, nothing except its minor key alerts the listener to the heartbreak inherent in Jenkins’ composition. It’s just the thing for a nice slowish dance to finish a romantic evening at the Glen Island Casino or the Balboa Ballroom, the sort of places that incubated the Swing Era.

But I first heard it, as with many other great American popular songs, in a version recorded by Frank Sinatra, in this case on an LP called Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, recorded in Hollywood in 1958. Arranged by Nelson Riddle, the album is the singer’s torch-song masterpiece, and “Good-Bye” is its most exalted moment. Riddle slows the song down almost to a standstill, applying his most sensitive orchestral touch, employing juxtapositions and combinations of cor anglais, cello, bassoon, various kinds of clarinet, tightly muted trumpets, French horns and muted strings as well as great sweeping ensemble flourishes to inspire his singer. Sinatra responds with a performance of concentrated sobriety that puts to perfect use the lessons in bel canto phrasing that he learnt from listening to the trombone playing of Tommy Dorsey and the violin of Jascha Heifetz. All those underwater lengths he swam in order to master his breath-control find their reward here. And, of course, we get the lyric, an essay in elegant despair, fully comprehended by the arranger: as Sinatra sings “So you take the high road, and I’ll take the low / It’s time that we parted, it’s much better so” for the second time, Riddle’s bassoons parp out a jaunty little even eighth-note pattern that underlines the sense of physical parting, the tone of the chosen instrument somehow leaving us in no doubt that the jauntiness is assumed and false. The melody carrying those particular lines, by the way, is as  finely shaped as any I can think of, especially in terms of the relationship of each individual note to its chord — the sort of thing that seldom bothers the little heads of today’s songwriters.

So much, as far as I’m concerned, for vocal versions of “Good-Bye” (I use the hyphen and the second capital letter because that’s how it appeared on the label of Goodman’s original recording, although it’s mostly now rendered as “Goodbye”). After Sinatra, whose version is a certainty for my desert-island selection, I have no interest in listening to those by Ella Fitzergerald or Diane Krall, the latter recorded a couple of years ago with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. What Sinatra and Riddle did was definitive. Which nevertheless leaves the way open for instrumental treatments.

It’s a song whose modulations clearly appeal to pianists. Among the most interesting versions known to me are those by McCoy Tyner (on Reaching Fourth, his 1962 trio album with Henry Grimes and Roy Haynes), Paul Bley (with Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum on If We May, 1994), Keith Jarrett (on his duo album with Haden, Jasmine, recorded in 2007), Bobo Stenson (from the 2005 album Goodbye, with Anders Jormin and Paul Motian), and Bill Carrothers (on the Dave King Trio’s I’ll Be Ringing You, recorded last year, which I wrote about on this blog a couple of months ago). Tyner’s is in some ways the most unusual — he brings to his reading what the English pianist Alex Hawkins, in an email to me the other day, described as “beautifully luminous post-Tatum harmony”. Bley starts off at an even slower pace than Riddle and Sinatra, then takes the risk of doubling the tempo and introducing familiar blues phrases into his variations, and brings it off. Jarrett is Jarrett, in an intimate conversation with an old friend. Stenson is the pick of the bunch, for my money: wonderfully eloquent, lucid and absolutely cliche-free, highly attentive to the song’s ambiance as well as its structure. Carrothers and his partners come up with the most intriguing group-improvisation approach.

The brilliant French tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen loved the song so much that he recorded it at almost every opportunity. I have three of his versions: with a quintet on La Note Bleue (1987), in a duo with the pianist Alain Jean-Marie on Dream Time (1991) and on Double Action in another quintet with the guitarist Jimmy Gourlay (1999). They’re all good but the first has a special luminosity.

Another saxophonist who got something out of Jenkins’ tune was Cannonball Adderley, who recorded it in 1961 on an album called Know What I Mean? with Bill Evans, two years after they had been members of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue sextet. Not the most obvious of partners, they manage to find the common ground between the altoist’s ebullience and the pianist’s cerebrality. Actually, Evans is the more ebullient of the two here, laying strings of single-note lines at double and triple tempo over the imperturbable MJQ rhythm team of Percy Heath and Connie Kay. The closing chorus is especially lovely.

The interpretations that would have shocked Jenkins most profoundly are probably the two recorded by Jimmy Giuffre’s trio in 1961, the first on the LP Thesis and the second at a concert in Bremen, at a time when the clarinettist was making his own highly original investigation of free and free-ish improvisation in close partnership with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. The application of their evolving principles to a standard ballad makes for a stimulating experience on both occasions, with Swallow on particularly fine form on the double bass, making one regret for the umpteenth time his decision to abandon the acoustic instrument. Quite probably Giuffre, being a clarinet-player, had first heard the tune in Goodman’s version. He and Bley returned to it in 1975, on an album called Quiet Song, this time with the guitarist Bill Connors rounding out the trio and Bley making slightly strange noises on an electronic keyboard.

Following more directly in Goodman’s footsteps, there have also been further versions by larger ensembles. Chet Baker recorded it successfully in 1953 as part of a septet session arranged by Jack Montrose: the alto, tenor and baritone saxes of Herb Geller, Montrose himself and Bob Gordon provide an attractive chorale behind Baker, who enunciates the melody with evident respect before producing a pleasant and completely appropriate solo (the track is currently to be found on the CD titled Grey December). Maynard Ferguson, a trumpeter at the other end of the scale in terms of technique and taste, recorded Don Sebesky’s arrangement on his album Maynard ’61, at which time the Canadian-born bandleader was approaching the height of his fame. If it’s not particularly subtle, then it’s by no means grotesque, thanks not least to a gorgeous tenor solo from the always underrated Joe Farrell. Much better is the version recorded on an album called Live in Japan ’96 by Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, arranged by Willem Breuker and with a stirring solo by another often overlooked tenorist, Gerd Dudek.

To finish with, a recording suffused with as much sadness as Martha Tilton’s account of the song’s origin: the one made by the great Chicago tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, the son of the celebrated boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, in March 1974. This was the final tune recorded on the last day of sessions held over three consecutive days for Prestige Records in New York, meaning it was the last piece of music the big-toned tenorist ever recorded (shortly afterwards his cancer was diagnosed and he died four months later, aged 49). Although he had no way of knowing it, this really was his goodbye, and he fills the track’s four and a half minutes with a brusque tenderness that brings another shade of emotion to a song which tends to draw the best out of those who approach it in the proper spirit.

Chet Baker: comeback and fadeout

chetIt’s 25 years today since Chet Baker was found dead on an Amsterdam pavement, apparently having fallen from the window of his hotel room. Police concluded that his death had been caused by head injuries consistent with a fall from 30ft or so; the reason has never been definitively established. The original assumption of suicide was undermined by the discovery that the window of his third-floor room in the Hotel Prins Hendrik would open no more than 15 or 20 inches: not impossible to squeeze through, but awkward. Traces of heroin and cocaine were found in the room, along with his trumpet. In the long and tragic history of the deaths of jazz musicians from non-natural causes, this was perhaps the least unexpected. The only surprise was that Baker, a junkie on and off since the mid-Fifties, had survived beyond his 58th birthday. The general belief now seems to be that he was murdered after a drug deal went wrong.

It would not have been the first time. When I met him 40 years ago this summer, he was just beginning the long comeback from an incident in San Francisco in which he was beaten so badly that he needed his upper teeth replacing with dentures. He gave me a version of his story about an angry drug dealer setting five thugs on him, and about the subsequent retreat to his mother’s home in San Jose, where he and his family lived on welfare payments and food stamps for several years until he finally decided to give music another go.

Now it was July 1973 and, thanks to the kindness of Dizzy Gillespie, who put in a good word for him, he had secured a couple of weeks at the Half Note club in Manhattan. The club’s owners, the Canterino family, had just moved it from the original location in SoHo to the corner of West 54th Street and Sixth Avenue in midtown. It was perhaps ironic that Gillespie should have done him such a favour: he was one of those bebop pioneers who had suffered 20 years earlier, when Baker regularly topped the magazine polls, named the world’s best jazz trumpeter at their expense.

Baker was never the world’s best jazz trumpeter, but he was a musician of singular lyrical gifts and genuine inventiveness. The night I went to see him at the Half Note, however, little of that talent was in evidence. He had only begun playing again three months earlier, and getting used to the dentures had made it hard for him to develop and strengthen a new embouchure. He was a gaunt figure, very far from the beautiful youth who had come to fame with the era-defining Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and was clearly struggling to reassemble his powers.

“When I tried, the first time again, I couldn’t get a sound out of the horn,” he told me. “I’d got the dentures in, and it’s not easy to start over again as far as your embouchure goes. I’d been playing one way for 26 years, remember, and it’s something that takes trumpeters a long time to develop. It’ll probably be another month or so before my chops really start to get strong. Right now, there’s plenty I can’t do. I have a very limited range, and sometimes when I go for a high passage all you can hear is the valves going up and down, but no sound. I don’t have the strength to tighten the muscles enough to make the sound come out. But then I never did play all that high, so I’m not going to let it worry me.”

His listeners could hardly ignore his frailty, but his persistence was certainly impressive. And he could still sing “But Not For Me” or “My Funny Valentine” in that wispy come-hither voice, which was enough to please those original fans who, surprised to discover that he was still alive, came along to hear him.

It was his first gig in New York since 1957, when one of his countless dope busts cost him his cabaret card, and I asked him if he felt the audiences at the Half Note were turning up to witness a relic. “Some of them, yes,” he said. “Some of them that I’ve talked to haven’t even been to New York for 10 years. One guy hadn’t been in 20 years, but he came because he’d listened to me when he was young. Many of the people who’re coming don’t ordinarily go to jazz clubs very often.”

He sounded cautiously hopeful about the future: “If I can believe what the people around me are saying, the people who run the club and those who’re coming to listen, I might allow myself to think there’s a chance that thing might go very well for me.  Oh, I’m always optimistic.”

He was right to be. The comeback went so well that it kept him in work, more or less, for the next 15 years. Once he’d settled back into his old habit (he had been clean at the Half Note), the tours and the albums paid for the scores that were as important to him as the music. On the shelves of Ray’s Jazz Record Shop in Foyle’s a few days ago I counted 27 Chet Baker CDs in stock, many of them from those later years and most of those from live dates in clubs around Europe.

His early records — like my two treasured Pacific Jazz 10-inch albums pictured above, made 60 years ago this summer and the first to be released under his name — still sound marvellous. The mid-Fifties quartet sides with Russ Freeman on piano, whether recorded in the studio or at the Tiffany Club in Hollywood or on a fine album called Jazz at Ann Arbor, and the fascinating recordings with the ill-fated pianist Dick Twardzik, are classics, in particular the set of extraordinary compositions by Twardzik’s friend Bob Zieff which the quartet recorded for Eddy and Nicole Barclay in Paris in 1955. What is less often acknowledged is that after Baker’s comeback in 1973 there were still times when he could match and occasionally surpass the work of his younger self, becoming more than just the style icon immortalised in Bruce Weber’s documentary film Let’s Get Lost, released shortly after his death.

Three of his later albums are of special value to me. The first, Chet Baker in Paris, released in 1997 on the West Wind label, contains half a dozen tracks recorded in 1981 with the fine rhythm section of the pianist Rene Urtreger, who had known him since 1955, the bassist Pierre Michelot and the drummer Aldo Romano, playing selections from his standard repertoire — “But Not For Me”, “My Funny Valentine”, Jimmy Heath’s “For Minors Only” and Miles Davis’s “Down” — with spirit and authority.

The second may well be the best record he ever made. For Chet Baker in Tokyo, recorded 11 months before his death and released on the King label in Japan in 1993 and on Evidence in the US three years later, he is accompanied by Harold Danko (piano), Hein Van Der Geyn (bass) and John Engels (drums), a superbly empathetic rhythm section. Over the course of almost two hours, he pours out relaxed, long-lined, firm-toned improvisations of great beauty and authority, without a hint of fragility. The confidence of his double-time passages and the poise of his ballad playing are the fulfilment of every promise he ever made, providing the most telling of ripostes to the scepticism that hung around his entire career. It’s out of print now. There’s a new copy currently on Amazon for £109 and half a dozen used ones starting at £60, and I’m not entirely surprised by those prices, because it’s that good.

The third is his last formal recording, recorded in Hannover a fortnight before his death and released in 1990 by the Enja label as a 2-CD set titled The Last Great Concert: My Favourite Songs Vol I and II. Here Baker is joined by the 18-piece big band and full-scale symphony orchestra of the Nord Deutschen Rundfunk, the Hannover-based radio station, whose staff arrangers provide arrangements of familiar tunes: “Django”, “All Blues”, “My Funny Valentine”, “In Your Own Sweet Way”, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, “Sippin’ at Bells”, “Summertime” and so on.

Baker’s own playing isn’t quite at the sublime level of his Tokyo performance, but the whole concert has a very appealing vibe to it — there are guest solos from two old Los Angeles associates, the altoist Herb Geller and the pianist Walter Norris, both then employed by the NDR — and the arrangements, if lacking the sort of character that might have been supplied by the pen of a Gil Evans or a George Russell, do the job perfectly well. We should be grateful to Kurt Giese, the ex-drummer and NDR producer who dreamed up the project, Dieter Glawischnig, the conductor, and Matthias Winckelmann of Enja, who was a student in Paris when he first saw Baker in the mid-Sixties, that the trumpeter was given this last opportunity to take advantage of such lavish resources — even though, having been fully involved in the planning, he didn’t turn up for the rehearsals.

When he did arrive, he was not in good shape. Only a few days earlier, he and his friends had been busking in the centre of Rome to raise money to pay off a dealer. An attendant at the stage door of Hannover’s Grosser Sendersaal at first refused him admission, not believing that such a disreputable-looking character could be the star of the concert. His lower teeth were giving him intense pain. But, as we can all hear, the performance was a triumph. “With every defence shattered, he lived the songs with a painful intensity,” James Gavin wrote in Deep in a Dream, his harrowing 2002 biography of the trumpeter. After the concert Baker jumped into his old Alfa Romeo and headed back to his base in Liege. Two weeks later he was dead.