Tribute to Chet Baker marks 25th anniversary of his death

Jazz icon Chet Baker left this world 25 years ago, but his intimate style of singing and trumpet playing are still great influences among artists today.

Two days short of the 25th anniversary of his death will bring Double Entendre: A Tribute to Chet Baker, Saturday, May 11, at 8 p.m. at the Voices Café in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church in Westport.

Leading the band will be Chris Brown, a regular with Acoustic Wilton who plays trumpet and flugelhorn. He will be joined by singer Kim Oler, pianist Nick Bariluk, drummer Bob Leonard, and bassist David Snyder.

When he performs with Acoustic Wilton, Mr. Brown plays electric bass, an instrument he picked up fairly recently, he said. But he has been a big jazz fan and player since his high school days, and although he trained classically at Oberlin College, music for him is recreational. He earns his living as a sound recording engineer.

“The tribute came about when I was asked to assemble a band to play for a singer whose aspirations were to put together a CD of songs in that style,” Mr. Brown said. He put the band together and played the trumpet parts. The band was inclined to take the performance public, but the singer was not. To fill the void, Mr. Brown recruited Mr. Oler.

“Kim and I have been studying the music of the Great American Songbook since we met in 1977,” Mr. Brown said.

“Chet Baker was influential for a lot of reasons,” he continued. “A lot of people think of him as a singer even though he was a great trumpeter.” Unfortunately, Mr. Baker’s life was cut short by his addiction to heroin. Indeed, his death may have been caused by a drug deal gone bad.”

In considering the lyrics to some of Mr. Baker’s most popular songs, Mr. Brown said they can be taken in several ways.

While on its face, Let’s Get Lost is a song of love and romance — Let’s defrost in a romantic mist / Let’s get crossed off everybody’s list — it can also be seen as “a man who wants to escape reality in a haze of drug usage,” he said.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow, when you hear it in light of his addiction, you realize there’s a whole underlying meaning of the songs he sang,” Mr. Brown said. “You can look at him like Charlie Parker or others who died prematurely as a cautionary tale.”

Some of Mr. Baker’s other signature songs — My Funny Valentine and There Will Never Be Another You — will also be on the set list.

“In the final analysis, people’s performances reflect their personality,” Mr. Brown said regarding Chet Baker’s style. While many brass players, like Dizzy Gillespie and Rafael Mendez, were very showy, “Chet’s performing style was like his singing style. He virtually whispered. He sang as though he was whispering in someone’s ear. … That’s the way I like to perform. It’s more reflective of my style. … I resonate with that aspect. Its the kind of playing I like to do. … It appeals to me to be in a conversational style [rather] than a brassy style.”

The concert will be in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church at 10 Lyons Plain Road, known for its distinctive glass architecture. The Voices Café benefits the church’s social justice program, which has a number of missions, including racial justice, environmental action, health care, and gun control, among others.

“It’s nice to play for a group that has an agenda I can resonate with,” he said.

For tickets and more information, call 203-227-7205, ext. 14, or visit