He would play this tune countless times between 1952 and 1988. He really did love the song, and he re-invented it every time he played it.
In James Gavin's Book, Deep in a Dream, he tells the story of how Carson Smith, bassist for the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, found this then-obscure piece in a song book. He thought it would be a great ballad for the band to try. Chet loved it. ...."he played the tune as written, stretching out its slow, spare phrases until they seemed to ache. His hushed tone drew the ear, it suggested a door thrown open on some dark night of the soul, then pulled shut as the last note faded. The song fascinated Baker. It captured all he aspired to as a musician, with its sophisticated probing of a beautiful theme and its gracefully linked phrases, adding up to a melodic statement that didn't waste a note." James Gavin
There are dozens of recordings of Chet Baker's My Funny Valentine." Each is unique and special, so it was hard to pick just a few samples:
- September 1952: Chet's first recording of the tune for the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. The vibrato the 22 year old trumpeter plays sounds more like Harry James than Miles Davis. This recording is wonderfully arranged, with Chet and Gerry's melodies intertwining at the end, and Carson Smith keeping a tick-tock" beat throughout.
- August 1953: On the studio recordings of Valentine" in 1952 & 53, Chet played it straight, mostly as the tune was written. But as he began performing it live (as you hear here), it began to evolve.
- November 1974: When Baker and Mulligan reunited in 1974 for a concert at Carnegie Hall, it was only natural that they play this tune. After all, Gerry Mulligan continued to play it up through the mid- 1990's. It had became part of his standard catalog, just as it had became part of Baker's. The performance, though nostalgic, is a fresh interpretation of the tune.
- September 1979: From the Round Midnight recording in London. This one is so unrecognizable, it takes you a few moments to determine what song he is playing.
- December 1979: Chet teams with the great Enrico Pieranunzi for this charming, intimate version of Valentine." He brings even more warmth to the tune with his lovely muted trumpet.
- November 1985: At an intimate gig at The Moonlight Club, Baker blows a bluesy rendition of this tune complete with some dramatic high notes that will send chills down your spine.
- June 1987: One of Baker's best performances of this song, featuring a long, inspired solo that is one of high points of the In Tokyo CD.
- November 1987: Chet almost always played this tune as a slow ballad. Here is more upbeat version of the song from the Charlie Haden CD, Silence.
April 1988: This is the last time he would record My Funny Valentine," and it turns out to be one of his most moving.
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