Baker, Chet. (1929 - 1988)

1982 Autograph Letter about Money, Touring, and Tom Baker

An interesting and rare autograph letter from the later years of the jazz legend's life to his friend Jim Butler. In the original envelope postmarked September 20, 1982, the letter details Baker's money woes while on tour in Canada and California, and apologizes for not being able to pay back Butler the money he had lent Baker. Baker mentions his girlfriend Ruth [Young], and an upcoming gig in Calgary organized by "some young guys who were very interested in my playing," and his upcoming tour in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. In a subtle mention of his ongoing drug problems, Baker writes, "I've been getting by since I last saw you on Tussion X cough syrup and feel as though I've made a lot of progress," and goes on to mention the death of actor Tom Baker from an overdose. (Complete text below.) A fascinating glimpse into Chet's later years, after his return to jazz, and his ongoing struggles with drugs and debt.

4 pp. in pencil, on two sheets of notepaper with a piano key design. With the original envelope. Envelope slightly ripped from opening; overall in fine condition. 5 x 7 inches (12.6 x 17.7 cm).

From the collection of Jim Butler, a long-time avid Chet Baker collector who became good friends with Baker and his family over the years.

Text, in full: "Dear Jim, I have not come by or called since my return to N. Y., because as you can probably guess, the money situation did not work out as I had hoped it would. Linda Goldstein is the only agent that I have ever been associated with who accepted work where I had to pay my own travel expenses, which on this trip came to just over $700. Her percentage came to $750, all this added to $750, I paid back to George Avakian came to $2,200, which does not include a seven day stay at the 4 Seasons hotel in Edmonton which came to nearly $500 Canadian including room service. After Seattle I had 3 days off before doing a one nighter in San Jose and another one nighter in Frisco. This came to $250 at the Hotel Sutter, which is not exactly a luxurious place to stay. I sent Ruth $1,250 to cover rent and sent her to the Virgin Islands for a week with a girlfriend for her birthday which was Sept. 3rd. So, as you can figure, it didn't leave me with a whole hell of a lot. Fortunately while working in Edmonton, I met some young guys who were very interested in my playing in Calgary and have since arranged for me to do a week there beginning Oct 4th through the 10th. I have to fly up on the 2nd because I'll need to rehearse a day or two with the young guys I have to work with, then on the 13th Oct. I'll have to leave for 2 weeks work in Germany, Austria and Chekoslovakia. This work is much better paid and I also have another 2 weeks in Dec. in Europe; so you will get the money back that I borrowed from you. I hope that having lent me that money has not caused you problems; you were so kind to let me have it. I've been getting by since I last saw you on Tussion X cough syrup and feel as though I've made a lot of progress. Give me a call sometime soon; if your not too upset about the money. I guess you heard about Tom Baker. I just heard yesterday that he died during my absence from an overdose. I known many people found Tom a little obnoxious and hard to take but I always got along well with him and found him to be a very kind and generous person. Enough for now Jim; I hope you are well and happy, and that we have a chance to visit before I must leave again. Love, Chet."

‘‘He was one of the first generation of masters who created the powerful American urban music that came to be called bebop. He was the last of them to remain faithful to heroin, long after the others had cleaned up or died young. It was a love affair more than a habit.’’ (Chet Baker Obituary by Mike Zwerin, International Herald Tribune)

A remarkable letter illustrating the hard life of the celebrated American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist and vocalist. Baker was known for the clarity and ease of his tone as a trumpeter, and the preternatural calm, quiet, and reflectiveness of his singing, the way in which he could, “somehow,” as the Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi puts it, “express the question mark of life in so few notes." Baker earned much attention and critical praise through the 1950s, particularly for albums featuring his vocals (Chet Baker Sings, It Could Happen to You) and Jazz historian David Gelly has described the promise of Baker's early career as "James Dean, Sinatra, and Bix, rolled into one." But Baker began using heroin in the 1950s, resulting in an addiction that lasted the remainder of his life, landing him in and out of jail and partly driving his notoriety and fame. His career enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1970s and '80s, during which time he lived in Europe, recording and touring, for most of the ten years prior to his death. On May 13, 1988 Baker was found dead on the street below his second-story room of Hotel Prins Hendrik in Amsterdam, in what was almost certainly a suicide, but ruled an accidental if drug-induced fall.  (13525)

Autograph Letter