Chesney Henry "Chet" Baker Jr. (December 23, 1929 – May 13, 1988) was an American jazz musician.
Raised in a musical household in Oklahoma (his father was a guitar player), and coming of age in Southern California during the bebop era of jazz, Baker found success as a trumpet player in 1951 when he was chosen by Charlie Parker to play with him on a series of West Coast dates. In 1952, Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which lasted less than a year because of Mulligan's arrest on drug charges. In 1954, Baker won the Downbeat Jazz Poll, beating Miles Davis among others. Over the next few years, Baker fronted his own combo, both playing trumpet and singing. His good looks and singing talent helped make him an icon of the west coast "cool school" of jazz.
In the early '60s, drug addiction caught up with Baker, and his promising musical career declined as a result. Heroin addiction created a myriad of legal problems for him as well; he ended up serving more than a year in prison in Italy, and was later expelled from both West Germany and England for drug related offenses. Baker was eventually deported from West Germany to the United States after running afoul of the law there a second time. He settled in northern California where he was active in San Jose and San Francisco between short jail terms served for writing his own prescriptions. In 1971, Baker was severely beaten while attempting to buy drugs after a gig in San Francisco. Accounts of the story vary, largely because of his lack of reliable testimony on the matter. The beating left Baker without front teeth which meant that he had to learn to play with dentures, a difficult process for a brass player. After overcoming this musical disability, he moved to New York and began recording again with other well known jazz musicians such as Jim Hall. Baker eventually returned to Europe where he was assisted by his friend Diane Vavra who took care of his personal needs and helped him during his recording and performance dates.
Baker recorded extensively throughout his career, mainly because of his overwhelming need for money to buy drugs. As a result, his discography is considered widely uneven. However, some of Baker's European recordings, made near the end of his career, reveal a more mature and, at times, brilliant talent with simplicity and depth beyond his previous work.
Near the end of Baker's life, he resided and played almost exclusively in Europe, returning to the USA about once a year for a few performance dates. On May 13, 1988, he fell (or was pushed) from his second story hotel window in Amsterdam and died. Baker most probably was under the influence of drugs. A plaquette outside the hotel memorializes him. Baker's body was brought home for interment in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.