Posts Tagged ‘Chet Baker’

Chet BakerMaybe it’s the morning here.  Dark and somber sky with an unyielding flatness in its gray.  Very quiet morning as though nothing really wants to stir and begin this sultry summer week.  A fans hums, trying to move a little cooler air through the studio and I am sitting with my coffee.  Chet Baker‘s Every Time We Say Goodbye is  playing above it all, accentuating the gray mood with its deeply spaced tones.  I’m not the biggest jazz guy but there I do like what I like and for certain moods, like this morning’s, nothing fills the bill like Chet Baker.

I think it’s one of those instances of pure expression, where the art and the individual meld.  It’s not put on, not contrived.  It’s real and felt deeply, his own truth– all that you can ask from any artist.  I think we all aspire to a true expression of ourselves, to create something that we can say genuinely represents who we really were during our time here.

I know that has been a driving force for me.  Sometimes, it seems close to telling my truth and sometimes it feels just a bit shaded or slanted away from reality.  Maybe it’s a case of hoping that the motivation, the goal,  becomes the reality.

I don’t know.  Maybe, that’s just a bit too much thinking for any Monday morning, especially a sleepy gray July one.  Here’s Chet.

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Painting is a blind man’s profession.  He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.

–Pablo Picasso


I love this quote.  I think that is what all art really is– an expression of  feeling.  Emotion.  I know my best work, or at least the work that I feel is most directly connected to who I truly am as a human being, is always focused on expressing emotion rather than depicting any one place or person or thing.  At its best, the  piece as a whole becomes a vehicle for expression and the subject is merely a focal point in this expression.  The subject matter becomes irrelevant beyond that.  It could be a the most innocuous object,  a chair or a tree in my case.  It doesn’t  really matter because the painting’s emotion is carried by the painting as a whole-  the colors, the texture, the linework, the brushstrokes, etc.

In other words, it’s not what you see but what you feel.

I think many of  Vincent Van Gogh‘s works are amazing example of this.  They are so filled with emotion that you often don’t even realize how mundane the subject matter really is until you step back to analyze it for a moment.  I’ve described here before what an incredible feeling it was to see one of his paintings  for the first time, how it seemed to vibrate with feeling, seeming almost alive on the wall.  It was a vase of irises.  A few flowers in a pot.  How many hundreds of thousands of such paintings have been created just like that?  But Van Gogh resonates not because of the subject matter, not because of precise depiction of the flowers or the vase.  No, it was a deep expression of his emotion, his wonder at the world he inhabited, inside and out.

I also see this in a lot of music.  It’s not the subject but the way the song is expressed.  How many times have we heard overwrought , schmaltzy ballads that try to create overt emotion and never seem to pull it off?  Then you hear someone interpret a simple song with deep and direct emotion  and the song soars powerfully.  I often use Johnny Cash‘s last recordings, in the last years  and months before his death, as evidence of this.  Many were his  interpretations of well known songs and his voice had, by that time, lost much of the power of his earlier days.  But the emotion, the wonder, in his delivery was palpable.  Moving.

Likewise, here’s Chet Baker from just a few months before his death.  He, too, had lost the power and grace of youth due to a life scarred by the hardship of drug abuse and violence.  But the expression is raw and real.  It makes this interpretation of  Little Girl Blue stand out for me.

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A new painting  that is headed for my upcoming show , A Place to Stand, at the Principle Gallery , opening June 8.  This is a 12″ by 36″ canvas that carries the title Almost Blue, a title taken from the great Elvis Costello song.

I often talk about  the color blue as being addictive, about how difficult it is at times to pull myself away the color when I am working with it.  It is the yin to the yang of the reds and yellows I often work with in my paintings.  The reds and yellows are often bold in statement, claiming a small piece of the world as their own and making the case that they have meaning in this world.  The blues, however, don’t make such brash statements.  They create a different atmosphere, one that is quietly questioning why they are here in this world. Blue is a calm sense of wonder and reflection, almost melancholy at times. 

The Red Tree is here but its normally bold statement of self is enveloped in the blueness of the sky and landscape surrounding it, making it feel less like a statement than a question.  There is an uncertainty as to the whys and whats of its existence and the red of the tree seem almost ready to turn to blue.  It is almost blue.

I was going to have a video of either Elvis Costello or his wife, Diana Krall, doing the song here.  Both are fabulous.  But I came across this video of the late jazz great  Chet Baker doing the song in a performance taken from the film Let’s Get Lost, a documentary about his life made in 1988 not long before his death.  If you don’t know much about Chet Baker, you should really check out his bio.  It is the stuff of classic tragedies and will surely someday be the subject of a great film.  This version of the song  is a great expression of his existence and in the photos shown throughout the video you can see the toll that life, violence and drug abuse took on Baker over the years.

Almost Blue…


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