Sunday, March 29, 2009


Chet Baker and Mike Maran at the Civic Theatre


It seemed much darker on the page,” Mike Maran told me after this gripping and revealing portrait of a fallen angel.

Indeed. Blood-spattered bathrooms, an Italian gaol, back streets of Amsterdam, an abusive father. All part of the story of trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker. The only stage dressing: photos and outfits strung out on a washing line like notes on a stave.

But Maran's engaging lightness of touch, together with the magical music-making of Robert Pettigrew on piano and the excellent Colin Steele on trumpet, made this much less grim than it might have been. A key moment, for instance, is the picnic passegiata, with the citizens of Lucca listening as Chet plays Someone to Watch Over Me in his prison cell. Never the same way twice.

Quirky little details help keep the darkness and depression at bay: Chet the cat burglar, the Carnegie Hall, Chet the garage attendant, the awful novelty numbers, the dentures, the biscotti from Waitrose ...

Maran's narrator, crumpled white suit, red socks and shoes, is a key player, too. Always there for Chet, in the hotel rooms, in the gaol. A constant companion, guardian angel, buddy. Helping him to get in touch with the beautiful inner world of his own creativity. And of course bringing the supporting cast to life. Charlie Parker, Chet's father in jazz, Gerry Mulligan, cool jazz saxophonist in that first quartet, and pianist Dick Twardzick, who also died from drug abuse in a European hotel.

Music to die for. And music too, was a constant presence, underscoring the story, and giving its own, often ironic, gloss on the scene: A Small Hotel, Long Ago and Far Away, My Funny Valentine ...

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