The ‘Prince of Cool,’ that was Chet Baker’s nickname. Best known for his work during the 1950's, he shaped the world of West Coast jazz, bouncing around between San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Music was his whole life, and he lived hard. In the earliest days of his career he played with Stan Getz and was chosen by Charlie Parker for a series of performances. During his first years of performing he won numerous reader's poll awards, as both musician and vocalist of the year, in Downbeat and Metronome magazines, beating out legends like Miles Davis and Clifford Brown.
The next two decades were entirely shaped and colored by his addiction. Baker became addicted to heroine during the late 1950's. His musical acclaim never yielded any wealth, so he was known to regularly pawn his instruments for drug money. In a succession of months he was jailed in Italy for possession of heroine, expelled from Germany and the United Kingdom and then jailed again in California for prescription fraud. After leaving a two week gig at the Trident Club in Sausalito, California, he was beaten by a group of men in what's believed to be a drug related incident. Some accounts claim the majority of his teeth were knocked out, others say he was battered but only cracked one front tooth.The details of this altercation are murky, largely a result of Baker being notoriously manipulative and untrustworthy. Either way, the incident ruined his embouchure, leaving him unable to play the trumpet. Without money to pay for his dental repairs, he got a job pumping gasoline. He did this for years to support his family and to afford the dental repairs that would afford him to play again.
There were moments that resembled comebacks, but they were fleeting. In 1988, while on tour in Europe, Baker fell from his hotel balcony in Amsterdam. Heroin and cocaine were found in his room and in his body. He died from subsequent head wounds and his death was ruled an accident.