Roger Waters is an English prog-rock icon. Stuffy in nature, eclectic in his interests and bullish in his demeanour, it’s hard to think of anybody more opposite to the former Pink Floyd bassist than jazz legend Chet Baker.
Baker was an American pioneer in cool jazz, a genre that picked up steam after the hard bop era of frantic densely packed runs began falling out of favour. Baker was an expert melody maker, whether it was on trumpet or with his voice, and he created some of the warmest and most beautiful jazz of the 1950s.
However, Baker went through a dark period in the 1960s. Addicted to heroin, Baker found himself practically stranded in England. He was rarely playing music, often pawning his instruments for drug money. In one notable instance, Baker traded in his trumpet and bought a flugelhorn when he was scheduled to play a gig and couldn’t find a replacement trumpet.
This was the state that Waters found Baker in during their single meeting. Rogers tale finds him as a young upstart architecture student at Regent Street Polytechnic living, in somewhat unlikely fashion, next to a down-and-out Baker.
“I actually met him, fleetingly, when I was a student studying architecture in London,” Waters remembers. “We were living in a squat in Cheyne Gardens—the whole block was full of squats—and Chet was squatting three doors down and this must have been 1962.
“He was a junkie and he had no teeth and he couldn’t play anymore and I’ve seen films about him after he got himself together but what a remarkable man. What an extraordinary talent.”
Baker would eventually make a comeback with the help of dentures, returning to jazz in the 1970s. Baker remained in Europe, however, and guested on a number of rock albums by longtime fans Elvis Costello and Van Morrison, among others.
Unfortunately, Baker was never able to kick his drug habits, and in 1988 he fell out of his second-story window in Amsterdam while under the influence of cocaine and heroin.