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It’scommon knowledge that in addition to being a famous jazz trumpeter, Chet Bakerwas also a notorious junkie. Many of his drug-addled days were littered withtall tales shrouded in myth, even in death. He died tragically as a result offalling out of a window in 1988.
One ofthe more unusual stories of Baker’s dope chasing happened in Worcester. The account is documented inJames Gavin’s biography, Deep in a Dream:The Long Night of Chet Baker.
23 December 1929 13 May 1988 Chesney Henry Baker Jr., better known as Chet Baker, was born in Yale, on 23 December 1929. Was one of the greatest trumpeters in the history of jazz music, without a shadow of a doubt the best among whites, second only, perhaps, to fellow Miles Davis. Chet Baker expressed his admiration for the compositions of Bob Zieff in an interview with the Italian journalist, Francesco Forti, on July 25, 1959, that was published in Jazz di Ieri e di Oggi. Chet stated, “There is a young composer who lives in New York, his name is Bob Zieff. He writes music that is so advanced that nobody wants to buy it. “Chet Baker with a big band represents something new for the trumpet player and, at the same time, a full-circle turn. Before turning to jazz in 1950, Baker's musical experience was with large Army bands. But once he became a jazz musician, the milieu in which he placed himself was limited to small groups.
Chet Baker (born December 23, 1929, Yale, Oklahoma, USA - died May 13, 1988, Amsterdam, Netherlands) was an American jazz trumpeter and singer. He began his career in the early 1950's and played together with Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan. Unfortunately, his drug addiction hampered his career, including arrests for narcotics.
Chet Baker, now you can add American goldfinch to your life list. Just one more reason to call you Little Cat Dog. Bill, Phoebe, Liam, Chet Baker and I got back from the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV, last evening.
Evidently, for years Baker and fellow musician Gerry Mulligan were under constant surveillance andharassment of John Edward O’Grady, head of the narcotics bureau of Hollywood, CA. O’Grady led a squad ofdetectives in pursuit of, “protecting society against the creeping menace ofdrugs…. Mine was not to reason why addicts took drugs, mine was to bust theirasses,” he wrote in his memoir, O’Grady,the Life and Times of Hollywood’s No. 1 Private Eye.
Accordingto Gavin, O’Grady amassed what some called the biggest narcotics arrest inhistory in the LAPD history: an estimated 2,500-plus suspected junkies andpushers, many innocent. His main targets were jazz musicians, whom heconsidered, “the dregs of society.”
In hisbook, O’Grady bragged, “I set out to destroy that crowd and damn near did…. Iran Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker, the great saxophonist, out of town. I could havenailed him. His arms were covered with track marks from heroin needles. But hewas too old and too drunk and I decided it wasn’t worth wasting the timenailing Parker just so the City of LA could pay for his keep.' In 1955, Parkerdied of pneumonia, heart failure, liver disease from years of drug abuse. Hewas 34.
Gavinasserts that also on O’Grady’s hit list of arrest targets were the likes ofStan Getz, Billie Holiday, Lenny Bruce, as well as Mulligan and Baker. “Itturned into a plague,” Mulligan is quoted as saying. “O’Grady used to love tocome around and bait Chet, and Chet always had a smart rejoinder so this guywas after him.”
On April 13, 1953,Mulligan, Baker and their wives at the time were in fact busted. While themusicians were plying their trade at the Haig on Wiltshire Boulevard in Hollywood, O’Grady and Hill paid a visit totheir home. This was at the height of the revolutionary piano-less quartet’ssuccess. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/jan/29/chet-baker-gerry-mulligan
Theaccount is well documented in Gavin’s book and elsewhere. The detectives didn’tfind any hard drugs, only marijuana. They then proceeded to the club and confrontedthe musicians backstage, ordering them to roll up their sleeves. “Look at that– fresh marks,” O’Grady is reported to have said. At this point, they droveback to the house in search of drugs. Mulligan relented and presented them withthe evidence, his works [needles] and a small amount of heroin.
Theheadline read: “Hot Lips Bopster, Aide and 2 Wives Jailed; Nab Dope.” Mulliganspent six months in jail at Sheriff’s Honor Farm in Modesto, CA. Baker was spared, butcontinued to have the hell-hounds of the law on his trail.
Two yearsonward, Baker had had enough. Gavin: “In 1955, on a trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, Baker and Bill Loughborough, adrum maker who became his lifelong friend, met two gypsies who offered to helpcast a spell against O’Grady and Hill …. Trekking into the woods at night, theylit a fire, sat in a circle, and murmured incantations against the policemenwhile fondling clay dolls with pins stuck in them.”
A word onLoughborough: Commonly known as Bill Love, he passed away on April 7, 2010.He was a cat of many lives and one who resided in and out of the jazz purview.In music he is best known as the co-author, along with David “Buck” Wheat, of“Better Than Anything,” a popular jazz number covered by numerous artistsincluding, Irene Kral, Sheila Jordan, Bob Dorough, and Al Jarreau.
Wheat andLoughborough grew up together in San Antonio, Texas and were also the founders of theBoobam Bamboo Drum Company, and from 1954 to ’55 built instruments for composerHarry Partch. Their instruments were used by several jazz ensembles during thistime. A percussionist himself, Loughborough appears on the Pacific Jazzrecording, Chet Baker and his Crew, where he is listed as playing chromatictympani.
Aone-time 16 year-old student at MIT, Loughborough was a life-long advocate for the disabled. For more on this fascinating character of America music see: http://www.talkingsigns.com/loughboroughtrib.shtml
For moreon Partch see: http://www.harrypartch.com/
The questionis: What was Loughborough and Baker doing in Worcester in 1955? The fact that Gavinmentions Loughborough as “a drum maker,” one could assume that the musiciansmay have been on their way here to visit Walberg & Auge, one of the largestand most prestigious percussion manufactures in the country. See: http://jazzriffing.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html
Also, theBaker band was touring the East Coast that summer appearing at such placesas the Newport Jazz Festival and the Celebrity Club in Providence. The pianist in the band hadother reasons to visit Worcester. The Telegram ran this item: “Thewedding is announced of Miss Joyce Swenson of Holden to Russ Freeman of Los Angeles, composer and pianist with ChetBaker’s band. They are visiting here, having come from the coast. She is aformer instructor at Arthur Murray’s dance studio here.” Freeman worked with Baker from the summer of 1953 through August 1955. The pianist is quoted as saying that the trumpeter's heroin use began at the end of 1954. 'He started to use right around the time everyone else was stopping. Drugs were going out of fashion. I was also strung out for a time, but I had stopped just when we started the quartet in June of 1953. Chet was also the only guy who continued so long while other junkies either quit or died.'
In 1955,Chet Baker was deep into the throes of junkiedom. Before the year was out, thebrilliant young pianist Dick Twardzik, who was touring Europe with the trumpeter, was found deadin Paris. He was 21. A victim of a drugoverdose, the death profoundly impacted Baker. Note: Bostonian Peter Littman was by then the drummer in theband.
Formore on Twardzik, see:http://www.jazz.com/jazz-blog/2009/1/20/twardzik-chambers-one
Pianist Dick Twardzik in action as a ghostly Chet Baker looks on
As far asthe location of the Worcester woods, that remains in question.It could have been anywhere between here and Providence. Along Route 146 is a reasonableguess.
Gypsies? Documentedhistories of such people who lived or traveled in and around Worcester go back to the 1880s. Or, itcould have just been an expression used by Loughborough to describe orconceal the identity of the men.
Although,in this bizarre ritual Baker was convinced by the performance of themen and the authenticity of their supernatural powers.
“Yearslater,” the trumpeter claimed that the curse had worked,” Gavin reported, “notonly had O’Grady been ejected from the narcotics squad, but Baker heard,had been badly injured by a bottle thrown at his head.”
Chet Baker at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955
Note: This is a work inprogress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: [email protected]Also see: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com Thank you.