Chet Baker devotees may be intrigued to learn that some of the best music of his last few years has been released as a superb set of LPs. The box is titled Chet Baker: The Legendary Riverside Albums. It contains five LPs that Baker recorded in New York in the late 1950s. Among the giants of the era who accompany him are Philly Joe Jones, Bill Evans, Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Sam Jones, Johnny Griffin, Zoot Sims and Kenny Drew. I was honored that producer Nick Phillips asked me to write the liner essay for the album. That piece includes a reference to a television interview I did with Baker as he was about to open at the Half Note club in Manhattan in 1974, following a long layoff. Here is an excerpt:
“Jeez,” he fretted before we began filming, “what if nobody comes?”
He needn’t have worried. People came–not only those who remembered his first brush with fame in Gerry Mulligan’s group, but also fans who had followed his playing and singing ever since through dozens of albums for a variety of record labels. There were also young listeners intrigued by the opportunity to hear in person for the first time a famous and controversial celebrity.
Recorded a decade before Baker’s murder or accidental death in Amsterdam in 1988 (the case has never been solved), this collection has some of the best playing and singing of his New York period. The box also contains one LP of outtakes and alernates.