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Eliane Elias Pays Long-Overdue Tribute to Chet Baker

True romance

It was 1982, and pianist-singer Eliane Elias had just finished playing her first paid gig in New York when Chet Baker approached the bandstand. By then in his twilight years, Baker spent most of his time in Europe and booked only a few annual dates in New York. But here he was, checking out the latest phenomenon from Brazil. Baker lauded Elias’ phrasing and style-she had clearly taken a cue from the cool-jazz icon. They exchanged phone numbers, and Baker subtly implied that he was in financial trouble.

Elias didn’t ask what he needed the money for. Despite his well-publicized drug addiction, she simply couldn’t. It was a heartbreaking welcome to New York, a sacrifice at the shrine of one of her jazz idols, but Elias paid the band and handed the remaining 5- and 10-dollar bills to Baker. The wizened crooner doffed his hat in gratitude, and insisted that she take it. She politely refused, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. More than three decades later, Elias still has this piece of jazz history, a prized possession she keeps at her mother’s house in Brazil, where she first heard Baker’s recordings.

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