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Culture brief: Embraceable Chet

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It is telling about the nature of Chet Baker’s fame that fashion photographer Bruce Weber first discovered the jazz legend not by hearing his music, but by seeing his picture on an album cover in a record store.

Throughout the musician’s short, tumultuous life, Baker as trumpeter and singer struggled with Baker as sex-symbol tabloid-fodder to define his reputation.

Baker sang in an eerie, feminine counter-tenor, and played the horn with a mellow, spare tone, the two voices melding to create a haunting sound not replicated elsewhere in jazz. He also happened to look and dress like James Dean. After a brilliant early career, an infatuation with narcotics nearly destroyed his reputation and caused his early death when he fell out of a second-storey window at a hotel in Amsterdam.

Weber’s 1988 documentary Let’s Get Lost, made with the cooperation of Baker himself, was released the same year as his death. The film helped to establish Baker as one of the great enigmatic figures of American music.

Despite its cult following, however, the film has yet to be released on DVD. Its week-long appearance at Cinema du Parc – ending this Thursday – is a rare treat for any fan of jazz or stories of Hollywood tragedy.

– Ian Beattie