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‘In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album’ by Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon Review: Trumpeters in Tandem


Chet Baker Photo: K. Abe/CTSIMAGES

Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon didn’t have much in common. The two trumpeters and occasional singers, who are heard together on the recently discovered, newly released “In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album” (Jazz Detective, out now), both emerged from the West Coast jazz scene of the early 1950s, but that’s where the similarity ends. Baker has come to be seen as the ultimate moody loner, the original jazzman without a country, wandering across the globe in an endless tour of one-nighters, generally staying one step ahead of drug-enforcement police. Sheldon became a mainstay in studio orchestras, playing on “The Merv Griffin Show,” singing on “Schoolhouse Rock!” and rarely leaving the West Coast. Baker’s singing was quiet, reserved and understated in a way that many found irresistibly erotic, whereas Sheldon was a figure of fun, full of irrepressible humor and wisecracks galore—he even made an album of standup comedy. Baker was unrepentantly self-destructive, leading to his death in 1988 under mysterious circumstances at age 58, while Sheldon had a long, productive life and died at age 88.

‘In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album’ is out now.

And yet the two men were, in fact, close friends. Sheldon, who was two years younger, idolized Baker, though he was careful not to emulate the slightly older trumpeter’s lifestyle.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Baker was back in California, but not by choice: In 1966, he had been beaten and robbed, and his teeth were decimated to the point that he needed dentures and to relearn how to play the trumpet. Other than on a series of forgettable, pop-oriented albums, by the summer of 1972 he had barely played or recorded in years.

It was Sheldon’s idea that the two should do an album playing and singing together, as a means of easing Baker back into full-time performing. Sheldon approached the guitarist and producer Jack Marshall, who had opened a recording studio in Tustin, Calif. As Frank Marshall, the producer’s son, writes in the album notes, the two Jacks then assembled an excellent rhythm section with bassist Joe Mondragon (who is playing electric on at least a few tracks here), drummer Nick Ceroli, and Dave Frishberg, the Minnesota-born jazz piano giant who had only recently relocated from New York. To make Baker feel even more secure, Marshall himself also played on the date, giving the trumpeter something he virtually never had the luxury of working with, a full four-piece rhythm section. Sheldon and Marshall prepared 11 songs, totaling 35 minutes of music: seven songbook standards, one Sheldon original, two bossa novas, and a blues.

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