'Hugo Hurwhey', by The Russ Freeman/Chet Baker Quartet
I’ve already talked a lot about Chet Baker, but mostly about the later part of his professional life. In the 1950’s, when he was making some of his most distinctive music, the pianist Russ Freeman (1926-2002) was a key figure in the career of the trumpeter.
Born in Chicago, Freeman studied classical piano in Los Angeles. By the 1940’s, when bebop was taking over New York’s hip clubs, there were few West Coast pianists who understood its harmonic complexities. But with his training, and a spare but flexible technique, Freeman grasped bebop’s mechanics fast. He went to New York City in 1947 to accompany Charlie Parker, and became a heroin addict for four years as well. In 1951, facing jail and probably death, he straightened out and began rooming with Chet Baker. When Pacific Jazz offered Baker a recording deal in 1952, it was Freeman who picked and arranged the tunes, and explained the harmonies to his roommate, who could not read chords, on their living room piano.
They recorded a lot together under Chet’s name, but on this last meeting of the two the billing had changed, with Freeman getting his name before Baker’s. But it is Baker that shines, really. 1956 was arguably Chet’s best year for bop, and this CD stands along side ‘The Route’, ‘Chet & Crew’, and ‘Playboys’ (with Art Pepper) as some of the hottest music he ever laid down.
Today’s song ‘Hugo Hurwhey' was recorded after Chet's return from his European tour of '55/'56. Russ Freeman had left the quartet before that tour, for which Baker then recruited Dick Twardzik. After Twardzik's death (heroin overdose) and Chet's return to the United States, producer Dick Bock arranged this session.
It was instantly obvious how much Baker matured during that tour. ‘Quartet' was a direct progression from his Paris albums and quite distinct from his previous Pacific Jazz releases. Among other things, Baker had discovered and dived deep into hard bop in Paris, leaving much of his former cool jazz vocabulary behind. 'Hugo Hurwhey' shows him charged, energized and alert, and there is a distinct influence of Clifford Brown noticeable here.
Chet Baker - Trumpet
Russ Freeman - Piano
Leroy Vinnegar - Bass
Shelley Manne - Drums