The Jason Hanna Quintet Pays Tribute to Chet Baker

Chet Baker sitting with trumpet. Photo credit to Carl Guderian on Flickr.

Jason Hanna and his jazz quintet are coming to Point Loma Nazarene University on Friday, Nov. 11 to perform a tribute to jazz legend Chet Baker. The performance will be in Crill Performance Hall at 7:30 and tickets are $10 or free with a PLNU student ID. 

Hanna is a local jazz band leader who served in the Navy alongside professor Bruce Mansfield of the Music Department and has been a guest lecturer for the PLNU jazz ensembles. According to the San Diego Reader, Hanna is a San Diego native who grew up in a Mexican American tradition that highly valued music. Since leaving the Navy, Hanna has fronted several bands such as the Bullfighters and his own trio as both a trumpet player and a singer. Otherwise, Hanna’s other experience is obscure due to a lack of social media presence.

Chet Baker, on the other hand, is a staple of cool jazz and ranks up among the best, right next to Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. As a complicated figure who struggled so hard with his inner demons, it’s amazing he was able to attain such renown before being dragged to obscurity through his own cursed hands.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Baker became popular in the 1950s for his “cool jazz” sound and his velvety, delicate voice. Albums like “Chet Baker Sings” and “She Was Too Good To Me” are textbook examples of his intimate, satin-coated style; a style that would never betray the turmoil that oppressed Baker’s life behind the scenes.

Baker began using heroin in 1957 and it soon consumed his personal life and his career. He served four months in Rikers Island for drug possession, was arrested in Italy for smuggling narcotics, spending a year imprisoned there, and was banned from both the UK and Germany, also on drug-related offenses.

Baker made a comeback in the ’70s and ’80s through a stream of popular recordings, including “She Was Too Good To Me,” and performances between New York and Europe, but he ultimately fell victim to his abuse, falling to his death from of his second story apartment window in Amsterdam after a heroin and cocaine binge.

Baker embodies the trope of being a “tortured artist.” His tender syle and the fragility with which he blows his horn and maneuvers scales are in direct opposition with the violent forces he fought with internally, but ultimately it’s tragic to see an artist reduced to such a stereotype and it is not something to be emulated. 

His music, his humanity and his ambiance live on through his recordings and the artists that choose to commemorate him. Hopefully the performance on Friday captures his pathos, without the baggage.

Written By: Tony Le Calvez