AS THOUGH I HAD WINGS by Chet Baker

AS THOUGH I HAD WINGS

The Lost Memoirs

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A posthumous sliver of autobiography from one of the heroes of '50s jazz. Although Baker, a brilliantly laid-back trumpeter and vacantly compelling vocalist, was at the forefront of the ``cool'' jazz movement, his career foundered early because of his heroin addiction and hapless propensity for getting into hot water. His memoir glides from childhood through his entry into the thriving West Coast jazz scene and the busy years of his first success. Baker grew up poor in Oklahoma and L.A., dropping out of high school at age 16 to join the army. He played in the army band (``Since there wasn't anything alcoholic to drink, some of the guys mixed Aqua Velva with fruit juice''), then got himself discharged in order to concentrate on playing jazz. He jammed with Dexter Gordon, served a stint as Charlie Parker's sideman, achieved widespread notice in Gerry Mulligan's combo, and was jailed more than once for drug use. Baker notes with bleak cheer the first time he tried pot: ``I loved it, and continued to smoke grass for the next eight years, until I began chipping and finally got strung out on stuff. I enjoyed heroin very much, and used it almost continually, in one form or another, for the next twenty years.'' Later, deep in junkiedom, he confides, ``I traveled to Munich . . . and got in some trouble. I wasn't prosecuted, but they did hold me for three weeks.'' At such moments, Baker's near-apathy, muffled humor, and refusal to emote seem like a perfect prose analogue to his chillingly affectless singing style. The memoir peters out in 1963, by which time Baker (who died in 1988) was working precariously in Europe. Even when discussing his peak years, Baker concentrates more on drug busts than music. Still, this is a morbidly fascinating window onto his hobbled genius.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-16797-0
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997




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