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Chet Baker was a primary exponent of the West Coast school of cool jazz in the early and mid-'50s. As a trumpeter, he had a generally restrained, intimate playing style and he attracted attention beyond jazz for his photogenic looks and singing. But his career was marred by drug addiction. Baker 's father, Chesney Henry Baker,Sr. The family moved from Oklahoma to Glendale, CA, in As a child, Baker sang at amateur competitions and in a church choir. Before his adolescence, his father brought home a trombone for him, then replaced it with a trumpet when the larger instrument proved too much for him. He had his first formal training in music in junior high and later at Glendale High School, but would play largely by ear for the rest of his life. In , when he was only 16 years old, he dropped out of high school and his parents signed papers allowing him to enlist in the army; he was sent to Berlin, Germany, where he played in the th Army Band.
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When the body of Chet Baker was found, crumpled and bloodied, on an Amsterdam pavement on Friday, 13 May , beneath the third-floor window of the hotel where he was staying, at first no one recognised him. Years of drugs and alcohol abuse had rendered the year-old unrecognisable from the clean-cut young man who, in the early 50s, with his chiselled good looks, was perceived as the iconic poster boy for West Coast cool jazz. Born Chesney Henry Baker, on 23 December , in Yale, Oklahoma, Baker was drawn to music at a young age, aided by the fact that he was born into a musical family his father had once been a professional guitarist and his mother played piano. In , when he was 16, Baker joined the US army, where he honed his horn skills playing in military bands. On leaving the army, in , he set up camp in Los Angeles and started playing in jazz clubs on the West Coast. He soon started to make a name for himself with a lyrical trumpet sound influenced by Miles Davis and which proved the perfect foil for the more effusive style of saxophonists Stan Getz and Charlie Parker , with whom Baker played in the early 50s. The unorthodox set up allowed its two horn players more harmonic freedom, however, and prompted them to play intertwining contrapuntal melodies.
He was a cult figure whose well-publicized struggles with drug addiction curtailed a promising career. Born in Oklahoma and reared in California from age 10, Baker began playing trumpet in his school band. He played in U. Many fans and critics felt that Baker, with his popularity and good looks, could have been a movie star. His life became increasingly unstable during the late s, however, as he became increasingly governed by his heroin addiction. Subsequent tours of Europe during the early s resulted in numerous legal problems for Baker: his drug habit led to arrests, prison sentences, and confinement in a sanatorium. His playing became erratic throughout the decade, and he underwent something of a critical backlash from those who felt that Baker was too often praised for the beauty of his tone and too seldom chastised for his technical limitations.