SONG: I Get Along Without You Very Well
ARTIST: Chet Baker
Listen to it here:
“I Get Along Without You Very Well” was composed by Hoagy Carmichael in 1939, with lyrics based on a poem written by Jane Brown Thompson and the main melodic theme based on the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor by Frederic Chopin. The song has become a jazz standard and has been performed by many different artists throughout the decades. Carmichael and Jane Russell performed the song in the 1952 film noir The Las Vegas Story.
Chesney (Chet) Henry Baker Jr. was born in 1929 in Yale, Oklahoma. His father was a professional guitarist and his mother was a pianist who also worked in a perfume factory. Baker began his musical career singing in a church choir. Later, his father gave him a trombone, which was later replaced with a trumpet when the trombone proved too big for him. Baker fell in love with the trumpet right away and his family noticed huge improvement even in the first two weeks of his playing. His peers said that Baker was a natural musician to whom playing came effortlessly.
At age 16, Chet Baker left school to join the army. He was posted to Berlin, Germany in 1946 in the 298th Army Band, and he later became a member of the Sixth Army band in San Francisco. After he was discharged from the army, he began to pursue a career in music. He gained some early success playing with Stan Getz, and later being chosen to play with Charlie Parker for a series of engagements.
In 1952, Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. He and Mulligan complemented each other well, and anticipated each other’s phrases. The Quartet recorded My Funny Valentine with a solo by Baker, which became a hit, and this song would be associated with him for the rest of his career. Unfortunately, within a year of this success, Mulligan was arrested and imprisoned on drug charges. Baker then formed a quartet of his own and released several popular albums.
At this point, Hollywood took notice of Baker’s talents and chiseled features. He made his acting debut in the film Hell’s Horizon but decided he preferred life as a musician and went back on the road.
Baker began using heroin in 1957, eventually pawning his own instruments to pay for drugs. In the 1960s, he was imprisoned in Italy on drug charges, and was expelled from Germany and the UK on drug-related offences. He was eventually deported to the US where served several jail terms for prescription fraud.
From 1978 until his death in 1988, Baker lived and played almost exclusively in Europe. It was his most prolific era as a recording artist. Early on May 13, 1988, Baker was found dead on the street below his hotel room in Amsterdam with serious wounds to his head, having apparently fallen from the second story window. Heroin and cocaine were found in his room and in his body.
Baker’s popularity enjoyed a huge resurgence in the 1970s due to his fan, Elvis Costello, who invited him to play on some of his songs, and through their mutual admiration, a lifelong friendship developed. Costello did a lot to make the world aware again of Chet Baker’s talents.
When I first saw the title of this song I thought, I don’t know this song, but then I heard Chet sing the first line and realized, I DO know this song! From where, I don’t know. I was excited to see that it was written by Hoagy Carmichael, because I tend to like his little slice of life songs, and this offering is no different. This is such a sweet little dew drop of a song. Everything about it is soft, calm, a beautiful rainy day with a cup of hot coffee song. I’m really loving Chet’s voice, so sensitive, emotional without being emotive, sweet and smooth. His voice is perfectly suited to these love-gone-sour nostalgic types of songs. The band is perfection – I love the first bit of the song with just his voice and the bells, then those brushes on the snare come in. The song slowly builds with some VERY tasteful piano and a teeny tiny bit more splash on the drums. If there are other instruments here I can’t really detect them. I also really like this type of song structure where it’s not just verse-chorus-verse-chorus, etc. It has a beautiful little narrative, a little story in 3 minutes, perfectly succinct and leaving the listener with a soft and sweet aftertaste when the song is over. Love it.
I remember this song from a jazz compilation album I had in high school and listened to a lot. At the time I was unaware that Chet Baker sang. I remember at the time finding his voice interesting because it’s so pure in a way that it’s almost androgenous. I really like that. You can close your eyes and picture just about any person singing this. Also, like his trumpet solos, he chooses simplicity and straight-forward melody to convey the emotion of the song. I feel like a lot of modern singers who feel the need to ornament the crap out of things could learn a lot about conveying emotion in the most direct path possible from this. His quartet sounds great, also. The bells at the beginning could so easily be cheesy, but somehow they’re not at all. The drummer is great, playing brushes so beautifully and almost as part of the harmony. And the bass and piano remain as unadorned as Chet’s voice. I also love the weird choice to make the climax of the song the ending. I liked this version of this song a lot in high school, and now, years later I love it. Man, I’m so glad to be reacquainted with this song!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
The great Nina Simone, another unadorned beauty:
The Jane Russell and Hoagy Carmichael version mentioned above:
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