Prince of Cool: Chesney Baker!

DATELINE: 1954 Buddy

 Chet as Challenger.

Was he really the first jazz musician in the early 1950s with a gay following? In a world of macho and homophobic jazz fans, Chet was often was dismissed as “faggy,” and singing like a girl. His style was decidedly feminine, often impossible to tell whether it is a boy or a girl’s voice. Think of Astrud Gilberto or Stan Getz.

He chose to sing a few ditties, that cemented the belief. His “My Buddy,” is shockingly gay for 1954.  And, his other plaintive tunes, like “Just Friends,” seem to sum up a gay world experience in the closet days of yore. He was always with beautiful women and a dog, as if to throw the bloodhounds off scent.

You half expect him to sing out about the love that dare not speak its name. And, then he bookends his melancholy sound with an amazing trumpet rendition that is subtle and delicate.

Gay historians may have missed him simply for not looking in the unexpected world of jazz by the Prince of Cool, as he was known to the aficionados of the day. He speaks convincingly, “How could you know what love is?” It almost seems a finger-poke to the straight eye.

“Miss your voice, the touch of your hand

Just long to know that you understand

My buddy, my buddy, your buddy misses you.”

Bruce Weber did a lionizing documentary on Chesney, Let’s Get Lost, which has been called homoerotic, rather knowingly. If you want a copy on DVD or tape, you will pay through the trumpet, unless you can play a Euro version on your recorder.

He was beautiful in his youth—and the camera loved him. By the end, the drugs and careless living took a hideous toll on his face. His talent remained, like a granite pyramid.

Chet Baker was hardly gay, in any open way, but was a sexually charged creature.

When Chet blew off a movie role as a trumpeter, Robert Wagner replaced him in  All The Fine Young Cannibals.

Weber’s biographical docurama contains the last haunting images of Chet before he either jumped off a hotel roof in Amsterdam, or was thrown off by drug dealers to whom he owed money.

The movie is stunning in its black and white sharpness: Chet Baker was James Dean, Louis Armstrong, and Picasso, all rolled into a trumpet.