Chet Baker's 1978 European tour with pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Scott Lee, and drummer Jeff Brillinger produced several recordings of varying quality. Live at Nick's is considered a classic, whereas Two a Day, recorded only one month later, is less consistently rewarding. The tapes on which Oh You Crazy Moon is based were recorded live in Stuttgart within the same few weeks as the Two a Day concerts, and are certainly worth hearing, if not quite essential. Baker's accompanists provide most of the truly transcendent musical moments; special credit is due to Markowitz, whose sensitive and careful piano playing is at all times perfectly suited to both Baker's voice and his trumpet, even when both are less than completely assured themselves. When Baker falters a bit at the beginning of "Beautiful Black Eyes," the rhythm section helps him along until he finds his feet; on a rollicking take of "Love for Sale," however, he seems to be having more fun. His de rigueur rendition of "My Funny Valentine," which ends the set, is the warmest and most confident piece on the album. Overall, this is an album his established fans will enjoy, but those looking for a good entry into his voluminous catalog will do best to start with the 1950s recordings that made him a star.
- Rick Anderson (All Music Guide)
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According to a poll from 1980, Chet Baker's discography contained more than 140 recordings. This number increased greatly after May 13th, 1988, when, at age 59, Baker fell to his death from the window of his Amsterdam hotel in a heroin-induced haze. Baker's musical heritage is large indeed. But few of the recordings from his later years attained the musical quality and the mysterious charm for which his work from the fifties is known. One exceptional highlight, however, is this 1978 recording, made for German radio, from the SDR (now the SWR), that offers some of the best work from the latter part of Baker's career. "Sometimes he also sang," the New York Times wrote in an obituary after his death. A gross understatement, since the trumpeter's passion for singing was a constant in his life. Occasionally his renditions of songs were completely vocal ones (no trumpet playing). This can be heard on "The Touch Of Your Lips," the standard ballad from 1936 that opens the album. It was made popular by its composer Ray Noble and his Orchestra, together with their featured vocalist Al Bowlly. Chet's unique way with the lyrics of this tune is notable. The pianist Phil Markowitz demonstrates his exquisite skill both as a sensitive sideman and first class soloist.
Wayne Shorter's "Beautiful Black Eyes" is a bossa nova that swings like crazy. Although harmonically an unusual choice for Chet's repertoire, it turns out to be one of the album's highlights from the first note. Baker's technique - which matured over the years - proves to be outstanding, and his laconic soloing is enriched here with his flow of innovative ideas. Markowitz once again shows he's an exciting soloist and a sensitive sideman.
Above all, Chet loved the more melancholic songs from the Great American Songbook. One of these is the medium swing tune "Oh You Crazy Moon." This song was the first collaboration between the legendary composer / lyricist team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, whose songs can be found in countless jazz musicians' fake books. Since it was first presented in 1939 by Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra, the song has remained one of music's timeless evergreens. Chet's version builds on the fascinating vocal and scat part heard at the beginning, and then leads to some superior trumpet and piano soloing.
The 60s and 70s were also the era of jazz-rock and so-called fusion. Even Chet Baker couldn't resist the Zeitgeist of the time. It's no surprise then that we can find what one could term "soft-rock" orientated music here and there on some of Baker's countless recordings from that period. On this album Chet uses the classic "Love ForSale" as a blueprint, a song that Cole Porter composed for his musical The New Yorkers in 1930. Here-next to some brilliant playing from Baker and Markowitz - is where the rhythm section (the versatile drummer Jeff Brillinger and then unknown bassist Scott Lee) gets a chance to show its proficiency. Lee especially surprises the audience with an exquisite solo that leads back to the main theme after some intricate interplay between Baker, Markowitz and Brillinger.
One of the greatest songwriters in the European tradition is, without a doubt, Michel Legrand. Although Legrand's characteristic style is perhaps apparent here only on a subconscious level, Chet's idiosyncratic version of "Once Upon A Summertime" is an ideal showcase for his musical concept: his beautiful trumpet sings an almost note-perfect version of the melody.
Last - but not least - is "My Funny Valentine," the ballad that has become Chet Baker's trademark. Composed by Rodgers and Hart for their musical Babes in Arms, the song eventually became well known (and is now unquestionably a jazz standard) after Chet recorded it with baritone
saxophonist Gerry Mulligan's quartet in 1952. Chet's romantically naive vocal version of this song, first heard on his 1954 vocal debut album, then became the most requested song in his repertoire.
- Hans Thomas
On behalf of myself and my family I would like to thank Matthias Winckelmann of ENJA Records for being there for us since Chet's untimely and mysterious death.
Late in 1988,1 was still trying to deal with the fact that Chet was gone. I was also dealing with the fact that there were a lot of unscrupulous and unfeeling people in the music business who were taking advantage of the situation. It was around this time that I received a call from Matthias. He had a recording he was anxious to produce and wanted our permission. Soon after, he arrived in Yale, Oklahoma to discuss his project. I was really impressed by the fact that he was the first record producer who had actually gone to the trouble to contact us to make sure that things were handled properly.
That meeting with Matthias evolved into a business and personal relationship that has been very rewarding. The trust that had been lost with many of the "legitimate" record companies, and the many unauthorized producers around the world, has been restored by ENJA Records.
Matthias has sought out only the best of Chet's previously unreleased recordings to be included in the Chet Baker Legacy series. I hope you will enjoy the music and want to add these recordings to your collection.
Once again, thank you Matthias, Chet would definitely have counted you as one of the "good guys."