Almost Blue - Chet Baker

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Chet Baker - Almost Blue
This song was written by Elvis Costello. From the liner notes of Bespoke Songs, Lost Dogs, Detours & Rendezvous: Songs of Elvis Costello (a collection of cover versions of his songs):

"It's strange how this song finally found its way to the singer for whom it was intended. I wrote it in 1981 after spending a lot of time with a couple of Chet Baker's vocal albums. I fell in love with the Brown/Henderson composition The Thrill Is Gone and resolved to write a song modeled on Chet's rendition of it. My version of "Almost Blue" was recorded for the album Imperial Bedroom. Read more


It was an extraordinary piece of fortune that Chet Baker should make an unexpected appearance in London during the sessions for my next album, Punch The Clock. Steve Nieve had already played a piano solo on Robert Wyatt's recording of Shipbuilding, so I had decided to have a trumpet interlude on our version. During the week of Chet's residency, I went to the club, introduced myself, and invited him to the studio. While Robert Wyatt's recording remains, in my opinion, unassailable, Chet's playing and the response it drew from The Attractions more than justified my decision to recut the tune.

At the end of the Shipbuilding session I gave Chet a copy of Almost Blue, but I found it easy to imagine that he would mislay it before ever hearing the song. Over the next few years I always went to see Chet when he performed in London; we'd share a drink and a few words, and on one occasion we played a short set together for a concert video shot at Ronnie Scott's Club. However, the song I'd given to him was never mentioned.

A few months after Chet's death I was given a tape containing his very fragile version of my song. It turned out to be from a scene in Bruce Weber's Baker documentary, Let's Get Lost [Soundtrack], where, not for the first time in his life, Chet was attempting to perform for an audience of drunken, self-satisfied idiots. It was pretty much as I had first encountered him and all the more heartbreaking being that I was not able to thank him for even attempting to play my tune.

One of the laziest and most banal critical generalisations is that Chet Baker was a man who entirely sacrificed his early musical promise to drugs. Whatever junk did to him or for him, it certainly wasn't pretty and it surely caused a lot of grief. However, to suggest that he made no worthwhile music in later years is absolute nonsense. Although he was inclined to cover the same repertoire on live recordings, he also made some beautiful studio recordings of new compositions, such as Richard Beirach's Broken Wing. The album The Legacy, recorded only a year before his death, shows that he was not only playing wonderfully, but he could also rise to the unfamiliar challenge of playing with a big band lineup. I am therefore delighted that this collection should close with a less harrowing take on "Almost Blue." It comes from the album Chet Baker in Tokyo, recorded in 1987, and it finds Chet much more at ease with the tune. It is to my great delight that this arrangement also includes a trumpet solo and that the song finally sounds pretty much as I dreamed it would."


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