Geoff Dyer on Chet Baker

I’m just finishing Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz. My critical comment: it’s a bit too romantic, in the sense that it paints a picture of mostly off-kilter jazz musicians in a brutal world. That aside, it’s a beautiful book, with more jazz in it than almost any other book about jazz.

Here he is on Chet Baker: “Chet put nothing of himself into his music and that’s what lent his playing its pathos. The music he played felt abandoned by him. He played the old ballads and standards with a long series of caresses that led nowhere and subsided into nothing.”

Now that’s an insight.

I grew up in a town that had been a boomtown in the early twentieth century because the railroad ran through it. By the time I was growing up there in the 70s and 80s it was like a ghost town from a spaghetti western (population 500): the whole main street was lined with abandoned shops. The only businesses we could support were two taverns and a beauty parlor. Booze and beauty were all that remained. I first started loving Chet Baker’s music back in the 80s in that dinky town. It wasn’t until I read Dyer’s comments on Chet Baker that I fully understood the echo my heart gave back to Chet’s music. His music is that abandoned town. All that’s left is booze and beauty.

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