Carol Baker, Chet Baker’s widow

June 22nd, 1998

JJM:  There is a very beautiful passage in the book where Chet describes taking his boat out on a lake, sitting quietly and waiting for his destiny to meet him….

CB:  That’s the way he was, if he was ever upset or something disturbed him, he would just take off.  And usually he’d take off and go somewhere and be by himself.  You didn’t even know where he had went, you’d just wait for him to come back.  One night, in California, he took his horn out into the hills and just slept under a tree that night.

JJM:  What was it like meeting Chet for the first time.  Were you familiar with jazz or Chet’s music?

CB:  No, I’d never heard of him, didn’t  know who the hell he was.  I never listened to jazz, I was listening to Elvis Presley. That was my man back then because I was 19 when I met him.  I went to work with the Shirley Bassey show in Milan, hated it as soon as I got there, it wasn’t what I had expected.  But it was for a month so I was expecting to be there for a month.  I didn’t go anywhere for the first week but there were other guys there and every night they would say were going to see Chet Baker but I didn’t care to go and went back to my room.  That went on for a week until one Saturday night they said you’re not going home to the hotel, you’re coming out tonight whether you like it or not and practically dragged me along.  One of the guys had a bunch of records under his arm and going over in the cab they were all talking about Chet Baker and I was hearing all this and I thought God, why would I want to meet him?  I didn’t even know what he played.  I was hearing how he’d been busted for this and busted for that and of course I found out afterwards it had all been highly exaggerated, but at the time I was wishing I wasn’t here that I was back in my room.  When we got there and got out of the cab, we could hear the music playing and I could hear someone playing a trumpet and it really sounded beautiful.  I didn’t know it was Chet so we went inside and there was no place to sit, it was absolutely packed.  There was an upstairs and then you went downstairs to the bandstand and even the stairs were jam packed.  So anyway, we had to wait upstairs until the set ended and then people started to leave.  I didn’t even know what he looked like and then coming up the stairs, watching the stairs with the rest of the people I was with, I saw this guy coming up the stairs and not knowing who it was I thought, God that’s a good looking guy, he’s really nice looking.  It was like as he came up the stairs he looked at me and I was looking at him and I didn’t know who he was until somebody said Hey Chet, ya know and here he comes.  So they wanted him to sign their albums and stuff like that and I just stood back there and he kept checking me out and checking me out and next thing he invited everybody to dinner.  I mean everybody and I’m thinking wow, how many are there.  So even at the dinner table when we went to the restaurant he was checking me out but I’m thinking well, I ‘m going home, I’m only here for three weeks and I’ll never see him again.  No ideas, no thoughts, nothing.  So that was that that evening.  The following week every night I caught sight of him back stage.  He was always talking to somebody and sort of looking my way.  One night I hear a voice behind me say hello and I turned around and it was him.  He says to me, “Do you remember me?”  I said yes and then he asked “did anyone ever tell you that you should be in the movies?”  I looked at him and thought this is the old line.  I said to him “couldn’t you think of a better line than that?”  He said “It’s not a line” and he got quite indignant about it.  I said, “oh it isn’t” He said “no, what are you doing tomorrow?  I’ll prove to you it’s not a line.  Do you remember that guy who was sitting next to me, Mario Fatore, well he owns a film company.  He saw you that night and he wants to meet you.”  Well, I  didn’t believe him so he set up this arrangement to meet him next morning (Sunday) and drive me to the studio.  Of course I didn’t believe him, I thought he wouldn’t be there.  So I went down extra early just to be sure I could see him coming and he was already there.  I thought ok he’s here so I got in the car and we drove outside of Milan to the studio.  It was Sunday morning so the place was dead, and when we go in and meet Mario.  Chet knew some Italian and after a few exchanges they call in some guy to take me to the make up room and gives me one of those stamped on Italian faces.  He takes me back out, I sit in front of a Singer sewing machine and Mario asked me a few questions in his broken English.  It was a matter of a few minutes and that was that.  After that he goes over to his desk and gets out a wad of those big Italian bills, I didn’t even know how much it was, huge things, counts out a bundle of those and gives them to me.  Well, you see, if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been suspicious but I had never been paid that way.  Your money usually goes to your agent and you get a check every so often.  So when we got out of there I said to Chet you set that up didn’t you?  He said no I didn’t.  I said you did, I don’t believe you, this feels like a set up and he denied it.  He denied that for years.  I finally got the truth out of him I think it was about 1975.  And I said you can tell me.   So this was all those years later and he said well, I didn’t actually set it up, he said  but I knew if I took you out there, Mario would know that I was really interested in you and go along with it.  So I knew, it was a set up and he denied it for about 15 years.

JJM:  Any other favorite memories you could share with us

CB:  Oh, the early years.  Chet always used to like travel late at night when he got off the job because there was no one on the road, it was quiet and he thought he could make good time.  We did a lot of traveling at night, high speed too!  It was nice with the radio on, stopping for a bite to eat, staying a small motels.  I miss him, I do.  It really hasn’t even sunk in that he’s gone.  I know he his.  At times I really miss him and I know it but a lot of times it’s like he still here…my memories, the pictures that come into my mind, his music, it’s like he is still here and I’m still married to him even though he is dead.  It’s weird.

CB:  Chet gave everything to his music, I mean, we took second place basically, family…it has to.  You can’t be home, be a good daddy and husband all the time and be on the road as well.  But I accepted that because I knew it was what he did for a living and the kids grew up with it.  I’m not saying it was easy for them not having their dad around all the time but what was the alternative, that was what he had always done.  We couldn’t ask him to change, what would he do sitting here in Oklahoma or anywhere for that matter?  He used to talk about when he got too tired to travel maybe taking on a couple of students but I don’t think Chet would have had the patience for that.  He was very short on patience.  When it came to telling someone what to do musically, after about three times, he’s loose it.  If you didn’t get it, he didn’t have a lot of patience so I don’t think that would have worked out, personally.  He’d feel that they should be able to hear it and play it but of course, it’s not always like that.

JJM:  What do you want most for the book “As Though I had Wings” to accomplish?

CB:  Chet was no angel but again, there was a hell of a lot more to his life than Bruce Weber’s portrayal of the dark, gloomy, beat looking jazz clubs in “Let’s Get Lost”.  What about showing some of the luxurious clubs that Chet worked in .  He [Bruce Weber] wanted a look.  He made that movie the way he wanted it to be and it wasn’t exactly the way things were.  I believe it is time that people saw things written straight by Chet, from Chet’s heart, straight from Chet’s mind.  The book is Chet, that is precisely Chet.  How he writes, that is how he speaks, that’s the Chet I knew.  It’s him, the way he puts it.  I thought he put it together pretty good really, for someone who wasn’t a writer.   And his memory, he has a memory…you think that someone who’s done drugs doesn’t have a memory and is burned out…he’s got a very,very good memory for people, places and things.

JJM:  What would you like most for people to know about Chet?

CB:  Well, anybody that’s planning on going into the music business, to be very careful about the people you surround yourself with.  Just don’t take any deal that comes to you like Chet did just because he wanted to play and sign these pieces of paper that ultimately give you nothing.  You know what I mean.  Just be very careful who you deal with and don’t do anything by yourself, take anyone’s word for it or sign on trust.  Get a lawyer, you know what I’m saying?  You don’t know what I’m going through trying to clean up his estate.  It’s going to be never ending.  I’ve done a lot and there’s still a lot more to do.  It’s going to be a forever job.  Even with contracts it’s hard to get people to pay you.  With or without you have a hard time.  But, just be very careful who you let handle your business.  I think that’s what brought Chet a lot of grief, the people he had handling him in his life that were really like cheating him and that hurt him a lot too when people would do those things to him, he couldn’t understand it. Or they would promise I’ll do this and put a record out and pay you and he’d never see them again.  So, just be very careful who you’re around and stay away from the drugs if you can.

JJM:  What about Chet personally, what would you like future generations to know about him as a person?

CB:  Chet was a very shy, very generous person.  And very honest, though there are people who would dispute that but that depends on who they are and what their story is.  But to me, painfully honest, sometimes too honest because that made him vulnerable too.  I used to say Chet you shouldn’t tell people so much (people would ask him things and he’d tell them).  Sometimes they were not very nice things that they would ask but he would answer the question.  Especially in earlier years, I think in later years he learned a little bit better.  But he was a good man and basically he loved his music to the point where he put everything else aside for it.  He was a true musician whether you liked his music or not.  When people would say to him, oh you’re the greatest trumpet player in the world, he would say I’m not the greatest trumpet player, there are all kinds of good trumpet players, nobody is the best.  So, that’s how I remember him, very quiet, very laid back, very easy going.  Literally would give the coat off his back, he’s done that a couple of times…walked up to some poor old soul on the street who looked as though he hadn’t had a meal and given him twenty dollars or something like that.   He had a lot of heart, Chet he really did, even with all his problems he had a lot of heart I think.  He wasn’t a bad guy, you know what I mean.  Sometimes you’d think he never grew up, you know, because of some of the things he did without thinking ahead of time.  But, he always seemed to land on his feet though, no matter what.  When I read these things about over the years how he started out as this bright star and da da da.  Chet never left the music business.  As a matter of fact, quite honestly, I think that some of the opportunity that came his way (that he was excited about when he told me about them) I think subconsciously he even sabotaged those, you know what I mean.  Because, it really wasn’t what he really wanted to do.  It was something that was going to make him a lot of money but it wasn’t something his heart was in.  So even though he came home excited, he would sabotage it in some way.  And that took me a while over the years to see that because he really just wanted to do what he was doing which was traveling, working in clubs, and working with an audience at the concerts.  He loved what he was doing and I don’t think he thought he could handle any more that what he was doing.  And don’t ever mention the Mariachi brass…oh my god did he hate those things.  When we first got to California, here we are with two babies with another one on the way, no club jobs, and they were trying to cash in on the Herb Alpert thing and that was the only time Chet felt he sold out was with those damn albums.  Chet hated those things, but he had babies and needed the money.  He did sell out, I guess, in a way, but he had to.  But there were people that loved those records and guess what, they made royalties.  He couldn’t understand it, look at this he’d say…this shit made these royalties and this over here is making nothing.

 

Chet Baker products at Amazon.com

_______________________________

If you enjoyed this interview, you may want to read our interview with Chet Baker biographer James Gavin.

 

 

Share this:

11 comments on “Carol Baker, Chet Baker’s widow”

  1. Excellent article. I am so happy to see Mrs. Baker tell the real story! So many can tell a story, but she knew him best, the real him.

  2. Excellent article. I am so happy to see Mrs. Baker tell the real story! So many can tell a story, but she knew him best, the real him.

  3. I don’t for the life of me understand why I find his personal life so interesting, but I do. I suppose it has something to do with the fact he played so melancholy. His music really grabs me. Sad that his demons derailed his life and career. I just wonder if he knew what a beautiful family he left behind…..they deserved so much more than he was able to give..

    1. I agree that Chet left his family behind. Also Chet didn’t appear to have a conscious about the responsibility and importance of family. I’ve grown to love his music and find his life interesting. And question others writings of his drug use. Hopefully, it was exaggerated.

  4. I’m guessing Tom Baker was no relation to Chet and was not the time lord in BBC’s Dr Who.
    Now that would be bizarre but not unfeasible. Dr Who and Chet Baker walk into a club…!

    On a more serious note, I’d love to know what Carol thought of the ‘Lets get Lost’ film/documentary. I thought Carol looked great in that.

  5. What an intense love story ! Thank you, Carol, for sharing your soul and the poignant memories . There is an element of artistic potential in each of us – Chet pursued his in virtually every note and phrase he breathed – his is the equal level of musical love and genius which are found in all the greats – for many of us who listen, his art was just more lyrical and easy on the ears/soul , than some others who come to mind.

  6. He lived like a rolling stone. A life full of music and drugs and always traveling or on the run. A magical trumpet player. But he was also married and what I read in the interview, he had also children. Raised by his wife Carol and separated living in the U.S. It isn’t mentioned anywhere. It’s a gap in his life story. There is nothing you can find about it while it Must have been an important part of his life.

  7. Amazing woman behind the man as my generation learned I only wish I could have given myself to the live of my life totally and completely as Chet did. At 76 I’m still searching for the blue note, although I get close with words, the piano continues to elude me.

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. The first volume of this poetry is now published.

Short Fiction

photo FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #54 — “A Failed Artist’s Paradise” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .

Poetry

"Sister" by Warren Goodson
"Shit's About To Go Down" -- a poem by Aurora M. Lewis

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #139

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
This bassist played with (among others) Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole (pictured), Dexter Gordon, James Taylor and Rickie Lee Jones, and was one of the earliest modern jazz tuba soloists. He also turned down offers to join both Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Who is he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive