Produced by Pieter Kroonenburg, Julie Allan and Corsan
To Be Directed by Paul Breuls
Written by Julie Allan
More people got laid listening to the music of Chet Baker than to Frank Sinatra in the 1950’s. Who is Chet Baker? Why are we still listening to his music? Handsome Chet was a trumpet player and singer who made “My Funny Valentine” famous. His trumpet was an extension of his sweet, pure voice. He has been called the ‘James Dean of Jazz’, ‘Gabriel with a Horn’, his startling good-looks immortalized by the glorious black and white photographs of William Claxton. He was a proponent of West Coast Jazz and as such, was never embraced by the fans of his contemporaries, like Miles Davis. Because of his addiction to heroin, he spent the latter part of his life in Europe playing and singing to an adoring public there, and disappeared from the American scene. He remained true to his own music and died mysteriously in Amsterdam at the age of 58.
AMSTERDAM – FRIDAY, MAY 13, 1988. A police car, siren blaring, pulls up in front of the Hotel Prins Hendrik. A small group of people huddle around a body lying on its back between two posts on the narrow, wet side-walk. The body is that of a man, slightly built, wearing striped pants and a white, long sleeved shirt. His face is covered in blood. For forty-eight hours the police are not sure who is dead, but they are sure they’re dealing with a drug addict and who cares?
LOS ANGELES – 1952. At the famous Tiffany Club, the great saxophone player, Charlie Parker chooses young, white, startling handsome Chet Baker over more seasoned black trumpet players for his West Coast tour. Chet is on his way. After the tour, he joins saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan, who has come to LA to start a band of his own.
Chet joins Gerry, and the Mulligan Quartet is born. He and his wife Charlaine, move in with Gerry. The Quartet becomes a huge hit with its instrumental, ‘My Funny Valentine’. Chet tries to sing the lyrics, but Gerry tells him singing is not ‘real’ jazz. He starts an affair with Joyce Tucker, the beautiful young daughter of the Tiffany’s owner. His marriage is in trouble.
When Gerry is busted for heroin possession, Chet starts his own band and immediately records ‘My Funny Valentine’ as a vocal. His voice is heartbreakingly beautiful, his trumpet, melodic, an extension of his voice. William Claxton’s photographs on the album covers depict an incredibly handsome Chet Baker, a ‘James Dean with a horn’. The radio DJ’s love that he’s white in the days of segregation. The white teenage girls will be ‘safe’ from the ‘evil’ jazz of the black performers.
Chet becomes famous and falls into all the traps. He experiments with drugs and is voted best trumpet player of the year, three years running. He surrounds himself with sycophants and hangers-on. He is desperate to be ‘cool’, but he doesn’t have the respect from the musicians whose approval he craves, the ones on the East Coast .
He ‘medicates’ with fast cars, women and, increasingly, drugs, and he leaves Charlaine for Mira, a girl who idolizes him. At the height of his fame, a concert in New York City, at Birdland with Miles Davis, is arranged.
The concert is a disaster for Chet. Davis’s fans, die-hard jazz aficionados, treat Chet with disrespect, and don’t appreciate his ‘cool’ jazz and definitely not his singing. They feel real jazz is the black man’s music, born from their misery and pain. What Chet does is not jazz.
He decides to stay in New York, abandon his unique style, and try to play East Coast jazz, particularly try to play like Miles Davis. His drug habit escalates and he ends up in Rikers Island. When he’s released, his N.Y. C. cabaret license is suspended, so he decides to go to Europe.
In Italy, he plays badly, but is a huge success. Then he’s arrested for drug possession and again lands in prison. When he gets out, he is no longer welcome in Europe and goes home to California to his suffocating mother and abusive father.
But the music scene has changed. It’s 1964 and the Beatles have happened. His teenage fans are no longer interested in his gentle love songs and soulful trumpet.
No one wants his kind of music. He gets a few gigs, but he’s back on drugs. He ends up in San Francisco, and has his front teeth broken during a racial incident. He cannot play the trumpet without his teeth.
Chet ends up pumping gas for a living, depressed and down and out. He goes on a methadone program, gets dentures, practices the trumpet painstakingly, until he can play again. It’s a long, tough battle, but he perseveres. He meets Diane Vavra, and falls in love again.
His old friends rally around him and he gets a gig in NYC where Gerry Mulligan comes to see him and they play at Carnegie Hall together. But, it’s all about Mulligan’s music, and Chet knows there is no future for his kind of music in the America of the 70’s. He decides to go back to Europe where he is still popular. He takes Diane with him.
We go back and forth between Chet’s early days and the two weeks leading up to his death, two weeks that include his legendary concert in Germany and the end of his tragic love affair with Diane. Chet dies in Amsterdam at the age of 58. He falls from a hotel window. Nobody knows how. He was still singing and playing his trumpet up until his death. That was the only thing he ever wanted to do. The only thing that made him happy….and he still played and sang like an angel.