Venue: Festival Theatre stage, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 9pm Sat 18th and 8pm Sun 19th June 2011
Duration: 60 mins
Tickets: Premium $55/adult $45/conc $41
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or http://www.bass.net.au
Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey was co-written by Bryce Hallett and Tim Draxl with musical direction by no less a personage than Ray Aldridge, who also plays piano for the performance. Chesney Henry Baker Jr, one of the leading lights of the West Coast Cool style of jazz, was born in Oklahoma in 1929 and died in 1988 in Amsterdam, when he fell from the window on the second floor of a hotel. He had been addicted to hard drugs since the 1950s and heroin and cocaine were found to be present in his body. He played trumpet with many of the biggest names in jazz and, when he began singing, attracted a wider audience, although many jazz purists were unimpressed, feeling that he should have continued playing trumpet exclusively. His is a complex and fascinating life story.
A rousing opening instrumental number, that gave the musicians a chance for a few solos, was followed immediately by Tim Draxl’s entry to sing My Funny Valentine, from Rogers and Hart’s Babes in Arms, a song that was a huge hit for Baker. Draxl does not portray Chet Baker from the start, but begins by talking about the man and highlights the difference between the gentleness of his music in comparison to the harshness of his life, moving on to sing Let’s Get Lost, written by Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser for the film Happy Go Lucky.
Draxl actually sounds a lot like Baker when he sings and has captured the phrasing well. Any production about Chet Baker must, of course, include his trumpet playing and, as Draxl does not play, Eamon McNelis provides that side of the performance with some very smooth playing, nicely recreating Baker’s sound. Strong support also comes from bassist, Dave Ellis.
Draxl then slips into character and, as Baker, reminisces about the start of his career and the people that he played with, moving into My Buddy. Interestingly, all of the songs so far were also hits for Frank Sinatra, but Baker’s treatments were very different. This went straight into Look for the Silver Lining, another great standard.
Now out of character again, Draxl spoke of Baker’s family, unhappy home life, and how he escaped them by joining the Army. Then it was on to Johnny Mercer’s I’m Travellin’ Light, closely associated with Billie Holiday, and Gershwin’s But Not for Me, from Girl Crazy, going directly from one to the other. Between pairs of songs Draxl spoke either as narrator or as Baker for the remainder of the performance, teasing out aspects of both the career and personal life of this amazing man.
More standards followed with You Don’t Know What Love Is, I Fall in Love too Easily, There is no Greater Love, Got That Old Feeling, These Foolish Things, Just Friends, Everything Happens to Me, The Thrill is Gone,and Born to be Blue.
Near the end we hear the recorded voice of Chet Baker singing My Funny Valentine as Draxl quotes things that Baker said about life and death. This brought us full circle, and allowed the audience a chance to hear how similar are their voices and their interpretations of the songs. With the mention of Baker’s death, Draxl went into the very appropriate song, There Will Never Be Another You and then closed with Long Ago.
Tim Draxl and Eamon McNelis together brought Chet Baker into focus in an unforgettable evening of great music. Draxl not only looked the part but he also captured that romantic feeling that Baker imparted to so many of his songs. This was a very polished performance that showed a genuine love and respect for Chet Baker and his music and this came across clearly to the audience, who were greatly appreciative.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.