Chet Baker's Sentimental Walk in Paris is a collection of his Vladimir Cosma covers from the '80s. Although Baker was past his prime and had descended into heavy drugs, he was still an ace trumpeter. His gorgeous sound overcomes the arrangements (which are not bad, but tend to get cheesy at times), and fit perfectly into Cosma's mood music. In fact, Cosma produced the album and acted as Baker's handler during the recording sessions. The pairing is an inspired one, although Cosma's jazz influences have always been apparent. The orchestration that Cosma used for filling out Baker's sound was wonderfully appropriate, bringing to mind the amazing soundtracks of Henry Mancini or Elmer Bernstein. Fans of either artist should not be disappointed, and even curious listeners looking for a good orchestrated jazz album should give this a listen. Baker may have been at the end of his career, but his unique style was still quite strong.
- Bradley Torreano (All Music Guide)
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The long years that Chet Baker (1929-1988) spent in Europe, particularly in the '70s and '80s, are sometimes described as kind of an "eternal exile," as if the trumpeter were jazz's equivalent of Philip Nolan, the hero of Edward Everett Hale's Man Without a Country. To go for so long without touching foot on one's native soil, in the world of jazz, was tantamount to a virtual excommunication to the hinterlands. In the eyes of some, this state of affairs had been foisted upon the once-talented, quickly-decaying former trumpet star as punishment for a multitude of sins.
However, thirteen years after May, 1988 - that most unfortunate Friday the 13th, when Baker mysteriously plummeted to his death off a balcony in Amsterdam, and on the eve of the long-awaited publication of what will surely be the definitive Baker biography by Jim Gavin - the perspective looks quite different. The years 1975-1988, in which the trumpeter lived and worked primarily in Europe, may well be the most prolific period of his career, both in terms of quantity and quality.
It's said that when Baker played Europe for the first time in 1955, this amounted to the most extensive tour of the continent ever taken by an American jazzman up to that time. He would remain abroad for seven months, from September 1955 to April 1956 -and that was nothing compared to what was to come. (Indeed, Baker would spend much of 1960 and '61 in Italy, not touring but in prison, where, as he said in a later interview, the bane of his existence was a penal guard who importuned him to play "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" at every occasion.)
However, even when one factors in that unfortunate incarceration, Baker's European experience was altogether a rich and rewarding one. By contrast, the last period of his life during which Baker resided in the states - the late '60s and early '70s -was unquestionably the nadir of his life. He recorded dismal albums of pop "covers" and then couldn't play at all, thanks to a gang of thugs who relieved him of his teeth one night. In fact, one almost wishes he had never gone home again - following the great marathon session with George Coleman of 1965 (as well as those two lovely albums for Limelight, Baby Breeze and Baker's Holiday) Baker accomplished little of lasting value in the land of his birth. In Europe, on the other hand, Baker was continually presented with worthwhile collaborators and challenging projects. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was a series of sessions he made in 1984 with the legendary European composer Vladimir Cosma. Cosma was born on April 13, 1940, in Bucharest, scion of one of Roumania's most richly musical families. His grandmother, pupil of Busoni, was a concert pianist, him uncle a highly-esteemed conductor, his father, also a pianist, studied jazz with Jean Wiener in Paris and then returned to Roumania to become the conductor of Electrecord, the only official jazz orchestra in the communist regime of the time. The young Cosma studied violin and classical composition at the Academy of Bucharest, but was already writing orchestrations for his father's orchestra at the age of 13 and his first No 1 hit song appeared in Roumania when he was 16. Vladimir had a deep and abiding interest in a wide variety of music: not just European "classical" forms but folk music from all over the globe and jazz - most especially jazz. (As a youngster he knew every American jazzman by sound and name by secretly listening to Willis Conover's radio programs from Voice of America.)
After immigrating to France in 1962, Cosma made several concert tours in Europe and North and South America as a classical violinist. However, when Cosma met Michel Legrand in 1966, he realized that he could use his compositional skills - as well as his passion for jazz - for the cinema. He first began writing orchestrations for Legrand's music on various film projects, and then in 1967 was assigned a film score of his own to compose. This was Alexandre le bienheureux (Very Happy Alexander) a picture that was an immediate success in France, and which established Cosma as a film composer of no minor importance. Alexander was also the first of a dozen or so pictures on which Cosma would collaborate with the great French director Yves Robert.
Over the last 35 years, Cosma has scored well over two hundred French films and TV projects, most famously Diva by Jean-Jacques Beineix, a runaway success on an international level in 1982 both as a film and a top-selling soundtrack album (also currently available from DRG Records). It was the cinema, surprisingly, that also afforded Cosma the opportunity to express his abiding love for jazz. From the beginning, Cosma has made it a point to include the best available jazzmen in nearly all of his productions, including superior local players as well as visiting Americans. The likes of Don Byas (Alexander), the great French guitarist and one-time sideman for Chet Baker Philippe Catherine (Courage Fuyons), Toots Thielemans (Salut I'Artiste), Pepper Adams, Sam Woodyard, and the outstanding-British multi-reed player Tony Coe (Nous Irons Tons Au Paradis). Other projects involved all three of France's great jazz violinists - Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty and Didier Lockwood - and, on at least one occasion in the 1970s, the entire Count Basie Orchestra.
The way Cosma has traditionally worked is this: upon learning which musicians were playing through Paris and might be available, Cosma would, in certain cases, schedule a session, regardless as to whether or not he had a specific score in mind. Cosma would then put together a session, hire supporting players and start writing out compositions and arrangements. Sometimes these tracks would find their way into a film; other times, he would simply record these great musicians playing his works primarily for his own satisfaction. For instance, in the sessions with Baker, Cosma had the great trumpeter play "Sentimental Walk" ("Promenade Sentimental").
Like Duke Ellington assigning "Cottontail" to Ben Webster, Cosma wanted to hear this great soloist playing his melodies. Over the decades, Cosma assembled quite a stockpile of material, all of it by great jazz musicians going to work on his tunes. Yves Robert, the director who collaborates with Cosma the most frequently, was and is no less of a jazz fan than the composer, and encouraged him to feature as many great musicians as made sense.
It was inevitable that Cosma and Baker would cross paths. As a teenager in Bucharest, Cosma had grown up with the classic Gerry Mulligan - Chet Baker Quartet recordings, which were among the many sides that made the young prodigy into a jazz fan to begin with. And, as mentioned earlier, Baker virtually lived in Europe from 1975 onwards, and appeared in Paris frequently.
The basic project, the basic motivation or "macguffin," as Alfred Hitchcock would say, for their collaboration was Le Jumeau (The Twin), Roberts's 1984 film of a novel by the American writer Donald Westlake.
When Cosma decided to use Baker on this project, he was discouraged by all manner of nay-sayers. "They told me, 'Don't use Chet Baker, he'll show up stoned or he won't show up at all - you can't rely on him.' I guess I was bit apprehensive." Still, Cosma tracked down the trumpeter, who was" at the time working in Italy. The two spent many hours on the phone: Cosma was careful to tell Baker to bring both trumpet and llugelhorn, as he had different tunes that he thought would be best suited to the two different horns, and Baker was careful to tell Cosma not to write anything where he had to play higher than a G or F as his teeth couldn't handle it. The music would all be newly written for Baker, and the trumpeter agreed to come to Paris two days before the session in order to rehearse it with the composer at his Paris apartment.
Their appointment was for two o'clock. No Chet. Three comes and goes with no sign of Baker. Finally, after four, the phone rings and it's Chet. "Sorry man, I'm still in Italy. My car broke down and I have to get it fixed. I'll positively be there by this time tomorrow." The next day, the same thing happens: Chet doesn't show, but again he phones, "Hey dude, it took longer than I thought for them to fix my car, but I'm on my way now and I'll be there in time."
By this time, Cosma is very nervous indeed. He has a deadline to get this score recorded, and he's hired no less than 40 musicians including a full string orchestra, and is flying in a bassist from Copenhagen and drummer from California as most of his rhythm section. As a backup, Cosma puts a call in to the best jazz trum- peter in Paris, and tells him to be there in case Chet doesn't show or, worse, is in no condition to cut the music.
However, late that night the bell rings at Cosma's flat, 8 and theres Chet, sort of. He has a beautiful young girl with him, whom Cosma recognizes as the daughter of a famous Belgian saxophonist, who herself happens to be a pharmacist, which leads Cosma to surmise that Baker's interest in this woman is two-fold or even three-fold. What Baker does not have, however, is a trumpet; he had to hock it in order to subsidize the repair of his vehicle. Cosma's carefully-discussed plans to do certain tunes on trumpet and other ones on flugelhorn are now thrown out the window. However, Baker promises to rent a trumpet and assures him that everything will be fine. He also asks Cosma to play some of the tunes for him on a cassette so that he can listen to it in his hotel tonight. Cosma obliges but, he adds, not with a great deal of confidence.
Further hedging his bets, Cosma calls the studio the night before and arranges for the solo trumpeter ro be placed in an isolation booth. That way, in case Chet blows it the next day, they can still save the background tracks. However, within a short while, Cosma realizes that he needn't have bothered. The session is set for 9:00 AM; as soon as Cosma arrives at 8:30, he hears one of the greatest familiar sounds in modern jazz - Chet Baker's trumpet. Not only is Chet early for the date, but he has already ' learned all the tunes. Stone cold.
Cosma would run over each tune with the orchestra, but Baker would insist on not playing during the rehearsal - he wouldn't put the trumpet to his lips until tape was actually rolling. And then -magic time. "I can't tell you how beautifully he played," says Cosma, "it was magnificent. Each take was literally perfect, beautifully executed, with feeling and soul and no mistakes. When we were finished, it was almost impossible to pick the best take of each song, because they were all as marvelous as they were different from each other."
The session lasted from nine A.M. in the morning until twelve midnight. The only odd thing about the way Baker worked is that every two hours or so he would approach the man who was producing the film, and request a certain amount of money, 5000 francs or so. Then, Baker and his young friend would disappear for five or ten minutes and return refreshed. He would then resume playing. His inspiration never flagged. This way, they were able to get down all the tracks they needed in a single day. Cosma and Baker never worked together again, but kept in touch, and Cosma went to see Baker every time he played in Paris, for the remaining four years of his life.
French writer Jean Wagner observed of the occasion that "this "was the first time that Chet Baker had been given music that had not become established by common usage like standard tunes and which was completely written for his own purposes." That's at least partly true. Baker was undeniably best known for his playing and singing the well known works of The Great American Songbook. However Baker, although he was never interested much in composing himself, over the years played all kinds of original jazz compositions by all manner of musicians and composers. Indeed, any one of his albums consists of a well-chosen balance between new compositions and familiar standards by both jazz and Tin Pan Alley writers. Furthermore, as Cosma discovered, Baker was an excellent sight reader and had amazing ears, and was able to instantly learn new music.
Cosma assembled a brilliant studio cast to back up the trumpeter. The key supporting player - whose playing is, as always, so strong he should be considered a member of the front line - is the amazing Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (born 1946), who, for nearly 40 years (NHOP) has been regarded as one of the all-time great living masters of his instrument.
NHOP solos on virtually every track, and his specialty of playing amazingly fast in the upper register is in evidence throughout. So much so, in fact, that you'd almost think he's playing an electric fender bass - except that his tone has the deeper, more resonant and more satisfyingly woody sound of the genuine acoustic instrument.
Cosma also recruited two keyboardists, both French, Maurice Vander (aka Vanderschueren, born 1929) as key soloist, who is heard primarily on electric piano (these were, after all, the years of Bob James and Taxi) and Herve Selh'n, who fills in on the acoustic instrument. The last key member of the core quartet was another American, the California-based drummer John Guerin (born 1939 and who is, apparently, no relation to the famous French trumpeter Roger Guerin). "1 had heard John with Bobby McFerrin and liked the way he played with brushes," Cosma recalls, "Very soft yet swinging, I thought he was the perfect drummer for Chet. Musically they were very close." Jean Wagner reports that Guerin apparently left a session in Hollywood, got on the plane to France, then went directly to the studio in Paris and started the session with Cosma and Baker, where "awake for over 30 hours, he seized his drumsticks without showing the slightest sign of fatigue." Indeed, Guerin doesn't sound the least bit tired throughout, particularly on his solos on "B.B. Blues" and "Pintade a Jeun."
There are additional horns on certain tracks: Pierre Gossez triples on alto sax as well as clarinet, both the standard instrument and its darker bass clarinet brother (coincidentally, both are pitched in B flat), and two players on french horn Paul Minck and Jean-Jacques Justafre. None of these three musicians solos, but their tones are skillfully deployed in the ensemble by Cosma. Their presence, wherein the guest horns riff behind Baker's solo - makes the ensemble sound something like that of Baker's two classic albums for Riverside, Chet - The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker (1958) and Chet Baker Plays Lerner and Loewe (1959). There is also, on several tracks, a large string section, which is particularly helpful in setting the ballad mood. While the basic goal of these sessions was to produce music for Le Jumeau, the dates also resulted in two albums, Bande Originate du Film "Le Jumeau" - Munique de Vladimir Cosma and Chet Baker Playss Vladimir Cosma.
From the beginning, Cosma and Baker proved to be exceptionally compatible, a point which comes through especially clearly than on the title track, "Sentimental Walk." This theme (a short one - not more than 16 bars) which Cosma himself played as a piano solo on the famous soundtrack of Diva, is one of the best known pieces of movie music of the last 20 years. It's remarkable how basically similar - yet different - Bakers trumpet solo is on this piece from Cosma's solo on the Diva soundtrack. Both play it exceedingly sparely, yet with abundant, understated lyricism, however Baker, whose horn is buffeted by a slight patina of strings, throws in a little more jazz phrasing. Not much mind you, it's not like he takes the line and aggressively swings it, but just delays his rhythmic placement of certain notes ever so slightly, just to give it the subtlest hint of a syncopated sensibility.
Cosma's compositions tend to blur the line between movie music and jazz originals. The two jazziest items here are two blues-based compositions, "12 + 12"and "B.B. Blues." "12 + 12" is presumably so named because it's a two part composition in which each section is a blues in twelve-bar form. After stating the theme, Baker then soars over the changes like a man who's been playing them all his life, which, of course, he had. Likewise, I'm assuming the two B's in "B.B. Blues" - which could mean B flat blues probably mean Baker and Baker, two Bakers to indicate that our star both plays and sings here. "B.B." opens with a fast bass vamp, then Baker's trumpet on top of it, then, via overdubbing (something Baker had been doing since his very first vocal records in 1954 and '56), Bakers voice in rough harmony with his own horn. "B.B."also includes an extended scat sequence in the middle, with Baker vocally improvising on blues changes, and a stop time-style drum solo. It ends as it began by repeating the combination of voice, trumpet and bass.
"Two Much," which begins with the string section before Baker establishes the melody, is the first thing we've heard thus far that fits any standard definition of "movie music." Yet it too is a catchy, jazzy riff, albeit played more slowly, and it's basically in an AABA song pattern, with especially strong melody in the bridge. As with Baker, Vander's electric piano solo is light but very effective. "Yves and Danielle," with solos by NHOP and Vander after Baker, is the other slow, romantic theme, although the background pattern the strings play behind Baker still has the feeling of a jazz riff. While these pieces are, as noted, very slow, they are still in a definite tempo, and never go ad lib or rubato.
"Douceurs Ternaires" and "Pintade a Jeun" are somewhat faster and jazzier. "Douceurs Ternaires,"a theme with a bridge, is bright and breezy, light and sunny, and cast in a gentle 3/4 time. Baker's opening melody statement is backed by strings and clarinet, which lay out during the improvisations by himself and Vander. "Pintade a Jeun," which sounds like a variation on George Gershwin's famous "I Got Rhythm" chord changes, is the most uptempo theme yet, the backing horns being pitched in such a manner as to give the ensemble something of a big band sound. NHOP's solo, with the horns riffing in the background, is especially effective, as are those of Vander and Guerin.
It's a cliche, frequently repeated by Clint Eastwood, among others, that America's two greatest contributions to the world are jazz and the movies. Obviously, there's more than an element of truth to that statement, even though both products have been successfully manufactured overseas almost from the beginning. What jazz and the movies really have in common is the process of collaboration - even the auteurs of both media, who insist on writing and directing and playing all by themselves - will find they can't get very far if they try to do everything entirely on their own. Who would have guessed that one of the most exciting collaborations in either form would have taken place near the end of the 20th Century, between a Roumanian-born composer and an Oklahoma-born trumpeter? It was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that was truly made for the movies.
- Will Friedwald (with special thanks to Vladimir Cosma)