SONG: My Funny Valentine
ARTIST: Chet Baker
Listen to it here:
My Funny Valentine is a jazz standard originally written for the musical Babes in Arms by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and debuted by child star Mitzi Green on April 14, 1937. In the show the character Billie is singing it to Valentine “Val” LaMar, and she sings a series of unflattering characteristics that she actually loves about Val, and declares that she doesn’t want him to change. The song appears on 1300 albums and has been performed by over 600 artists, most notably by Chet Baker.
Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr was born December 23rd 1929 in Yale Oklahoma. His parents were both very musical and Chet started his musical journey by singing in the local church choir. His father gave him a trombone which ended up being too big, his parents gifted him a trumpet which he took to like a duck to water. He continued playing through high school and his brief stint in the US Armed Forces until he was discharged in 1951 and could pursue music in earnest. He was selected by saxophone behemoth Charlie Parker for a series of shows before joining the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in 1952, which saw Chet and Gerry playing off each other, anticipating each other’s melodies, including in the song My Funny Valentine, which became his signature for the rest of his career. Chet had continued to sing as well, releasing an album called Chet Baker Sings which boosted his popularity and his good looks had not been ignored by Hollywood, acting in several studio pictures.
By 1957 Baker began indulging in heroin and would often pawn his instruments in order to buy more heroin. He was arrested in Italy, kicked out of Germany and deported out of the UK back to the US due to his addiction and addiction-related behaviour. After an altercation shrouded in mystery but most likely a drug deal gone sideways, Baker was pushed out of a vehicle which cracked his teeth, ruining his embouchure. This left him unable to play trumpet and saw him working at a gas station. Baker was determined to get back into music, so he got fitted for dentures and reworked his embouchure, headed to New York and began performing again. By 1978 Baker was performing in Europe, rarely returning to the US. In 1983 Chet Baker superfan Elvis Costello hired Baker to play a solo on his song Shipbuillding, which ended up introducing Baker to a new audience of people and helped launch his comeback. Baker continued to perform in Europe and Japan until May 13, 1988 when he was found dead outside his hotel room in Amsterdam, the apparent victim of misadventure having fallen from the 2nd story window, with heroin and cocaine found in his system.
Chet Baker was nicknamed the Prince of Cool.
In 2015 Chet Baker’s version of the song was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
Songwriter Lorenz Hart wrote his own insecurities into the song, believing he was too short and ugly to be loved.
I will be honest – I knew next to nothing about Chet Baker before I researched and listened to this song. I knew he was a trumpet player and I knew he had at one point been an attractive dude as his early albums come up often on my instagram feed from people posting their vinyl. Anyhow, Baker has a perfectly pleasant, pretty and almost fragile voice, reminds me of a soft spoken Jeff Buckley. I barely noticed the drums here and the bass was really tastefully done, but I absolutely loved the piano and hope whoever the pianist was got paid all the bucks. I’ve heard this song about a billion times, but I can totally see why this version is the definitive version – it’s sort, terribly intimate, like Chet has his partner right in front of him and was whispering the song into her ear. I would really like to get my hands on the vinyl of this.
Chet Baker is known more for his trumpet playing than his singing, and probably, his voice is nothing super special. However, there’s something so classic and also contemporary about the way he sings this one. Just like in his trumpet playing, he chooses simplicity and unadorned melody. I love it because you can really choose how to listen and who to listen to. The bass playing is sublime, the drums are so tasteful, and the piano winds its way in between everything else. To me, this is one of the best versions of this song because he never turns it into the weepy, forlorn interpretation so many choose.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Chaka Khan for a well seasoned version:
Local talent Michael Buble:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
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