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  • Nathan Weakley

Chet Baker Sings, Seventy Valentine’s Days Ago

Chet Baker Sings was recorded on February 15th, 1954. The songs were familiar to listeners. They were old showtunes, jazz standards, and pop poetry, melodies written long before. What was new, though, was the soft, lovesick croon of a young trumpeter who’d never before found occasion to make his voice heard. Chet’s voice lent a fragile and quietly piercing soul to the music.



It is love that ties these fourteen songs together. Love’s intimacy, its happiness, its deprivation and loneliness. There are positive, hopeful tracks. “Time After Time”, for example, is a casual devotion to the bliss of an enduring romance. 


But other songs take a darker, more pensive turn. Let’s not forget the date of the recording– February 15th, one day after Valentine’s Day. On a track like “The Thrill is Gone”, Baker makes that day feel like a painful eternity that separates him from a halcyon love nearly forgotten. “But Not for Me” meditates on the cold loneliness of an unrequited love, and yet there is something in the soft focus of the piano arrangement and Baker’s gentle trumpet melody to suggest that, maybe, it’s enough to be assured that love exists, even when we find ourselves divested of it.


My favorite track on the album is “I Fall in Love Too Easily”. The song had a history– most famously, it had been recorded by Frank Sinatra ten years earlier. But the way Chet sings it is like nothing else. All the drama of Sinatra’s rendition– the golden, dynamic voice and the lavish string arrangement– is absent here, replaced by a quiet, intimate warmth. Chet doesn't sound as if he’s singing for the world, or even an audience, or even a particular girl; you get the picture, instead, of a young man humming to himself on a lonely street sometime late at night. The lyrics know me better than I’d like them to.


But that's the thing; this album, even in its sweeter moments, feels a little lonely, a little uncertain. Love is something passed between two people, and yet there is always a part that exists only in the individual, and I think it's this part that Baker brings out. The album is about love experienced by one person, and throughout it can found traces of a nervous wondering about the inherently secretive, because incommunicable, feelings of the other.


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I really don’t want to harp on something I’m not qualified to talk about. But I think that, if not for love, we’d have probably given up on music a very long time ago. Love’s transcendent power may be lost on many of us at the moment, but if nothing else, it’s enough to make a seventy-year-old album worth revisiting today. Whether you’re alone or with somebody for Valentine's, you might be able to see something of your heart reflected in the beautiful music that Chet Baker left for us.


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