April 1998

Chet Baker
As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir

This scant memoir of barely 20,000 words, evidently taped around 1978, finds the trumpeter dwelling on his halcyon (pre-heroin) youth, 1948-1960. His preoccupation with boyhood girlfriends, cars and muscle assure the autobiographical authenticity, as do certain Chetian phrases and cadences. A friend’s Spider “went like hell—when it ran.” His dad’s “disappointment [in his trumpet playing] diminished little by little...—see, he liked Bix, too.” On firing drummer Peter Littman: “He was acting too strange.”

As for jazz cameos, Baker mentions appreciation of Jimmy Rowles’ songbook, personal antipathy with Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker’s stamina and protectiveness, Dick Twardzik’s “impeccable” playing, Romano Mussolini’s bluesiness. Musical opinion is rare: indeed, Bob Zieff’s compositions are “somehow complete, logical, and unique.” He follows his mention that joining Stan Getz’ band “was a real experience” by his initiation to “stuff.” By the last 30 pages (1960 on) his bad-boy wallowing in drugs and busts gets to be a drag. Respecting Pascal’s dictum that “all things are best in their beginnings,” Baker’s tape runs out in Barcelona in 1963, as he dabbles and nods again. Baker may shed little insight on his checkered career, but at least it’s him talking.

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