Only a handful of autobiographies--Charles Mingus' "Beneath the Underdog," Art Pepper's "Straight Life" and Hampton Hawes' "Raise Up Off Me"--have truly represented the rigors of jazz life. Add to that short list the recently published "As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir" by Chet Baker (Buzz Books/St. Martin's Press; $16.95).
Baker, who died at the age of 58 in 1988 after a fall from an Amsterdam hotel window, started writing his memoirs in the late '70s, according to his widow, Carol Baker, who wrote the introduction to the slim volume. But the trumpeter's handwritten notes went missing after Baker's collaborator died in the early '80s. Baker's manuscript turned up at Spin magazine in 1989, and was passed on to Baker's widow, who confirmed the handwritten pages as his.
Speaking by phone from her Oklahoma home near the trumpeter's birthplace of Yale (where his mother still lives), Carol Baker says that "The Lost Memoir" is a testament to her husband's stamina, despite an ongoing battle with drugs.
"Even back in 1960 people were saying Chet wouldn't live long the way he was going. Well, he lived for almost 30 more years. Even with all his problems, music was still the most important thing in his life. No matter what, he always had his love of music."
The 118-page book captures Baker's memories beginning as an Army trainee at Fort Lewis, Wash., in 1946 and ending in Barcelona in 1963 with Baker working a cellar club to pay for prescription drugs. In between, he goes from shy, car-loving kid to troubled musician with a police record.
Though hardly comprehensive, the book succeeds on Baker's matter-of-fact descriptions of his life. He hangs out with Jimmy Rowles, auditions for Charlie Parker (then takes the saxophonist for tacos) and meets with Gerry Mulligan. Women come and go. Habits are gained and shaken. Police and informants are a constant source of fear.
Baker says the book, which includes selected reprints of the original, handwritten text, appears exactly as her husband wrote it. "He was really an honorable man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The music business was the wrong business to be in if you wanted to stay away from drugs. It was impossible for him with his weaknesses."
Signings: Singer Miki Coltrane, the daughter of John and Alice Coltrane, has released her first CD. The 10-song collection, "I Think of You," on the Chartmaker Records label, includes the late saxophonist's "Lazybird" with lyrics by his daughter. Miki Coltrane was 7 when her father died at the age of 40 in 1967 of liver disease.
Keyboard trio Medeski Martin & Wood have been signed to Blue Note records. The groove trio is scheduled to record its first album Blue Note album in December for spring release. The three--keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood--were in the studio last month recording with John Scofield for the guitarist's next Verve release.
'Tis the Season: The holidays never stop swinging with these Christmas jazz releases. "A Traditional Jazz Christmas" (Priceless Jazz/GRP) collects numbers from Louis Armstrong, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Mel Torme and others. . . . Scott Hamilton's "Christmas Love Song" (Concord) features the mainstream tenor man blowing merry with a quartet and lush backing from the London String Ensemble. . . . Solo pianist Dave McKenna's "Christmas Ivory" includes carols and originals done in McKenna's persistently rhythmic style. . . . Blue Note's compilation "Yule Be Boppin" has a tune each from Jacky Terrasson, Benny Green, Charlie Hunter, Joe Lovano, Bobby Watson and 10 others with, of course, Bob Dorough, singing his now classic "Blue X-Mas" for good measure. . . . Joshua Redman (blowing tenor on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), Al Jarreau, Kirk Whalum, Brad Mehldau, Bob James, Michael Franks and others gather on "Warner Bros. Jazz Christmas Party." . . . Smooth jazz trumpeter Rick Braun has "Christmas Present: Music of Warmth and Celebration" out on Blue Moon. . . . Saxophonist Dave Koz admits "December Makes Me Feel This Way" (Capitol). . . . GRP offers "A Contemporary Jazz Christmas." . . . Keyboardist David Benoit is "Remembering Christmas" for GRP. . . . Trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez plays "Deck the Halls" as a merengue on his JMI recording "A Latin Jazz Christmas."
Seasonal Concerts: Saxophonist Dave Koz will be joined Dec. 12 by keyboardist David Benoit, vocalist Brenda Russell and Chris Camozzi for "A Cause of Celebration" at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, (213) 480-3232. . . . A cappella singing group Inner Voices includes guest vocalists at their annual Christmas shows, Dec. 19 and 21, at the Jazz Bakery, (310) 271-9039. . . . Trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez will perform his Latin jazz Christmas program Dec. 21 at the Luckman Theatre, Cal State L.A., (213) 343-6610. . . . A "Smooth Jazz Christmas" will be observed by saxophonist Tom Scott, guitarist Jonathan Butler and singer Lalah Hathaway at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre in West Los Angeles, Dec. 19, (310) 821-2101.