‘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
It’s Friday, so it’s ‘Chet Baker Sings’ time! It’s been a long tradition at work to end the extremely busy Fridays with this master takes compilation CD. It’s always been one of my favorite albums and it’s been with me ever since I go it in 1990. I think it was the first CD I ever bought (yes, well, I’m from the LP and cassette era), and it never fails to cheer me up, not in the least owing to the superb rhythm section.
As said, this 1989 release is a compilation of several dates Baker recorded with pianist and music director Russ Freeman in the early to mid 1950’s. This particular song is recorded on March 7th, 1955. Baker and Freeman were two of the pioneers of the post-war, West Coast ‘cool’ sound. However, Baker’s playing and singing style during these sessions is warm and intimate, as it has been all through his career.
Chet Baker - Trumpet/Vocals Russ Freeman - Piano Carson Smith - Bass Bob Neal - Drums