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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny Valentine - the story of Chet Baker, 25 Sep 2012
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I enjoyed this hugely. A comprehensive, brilliantly researched book that manages to deftly tread the line between respecting Chet Baker's massive talent and documenting the addiction to drugs which was his Achilles' heel. Along the way, it takes you on a colourful trip through the history and characters of post-war jazz - from the glory days of the early 1950s into which Baker burst with his matinee idol looks and instinctive musical ability, to the days where many jazz performers were struggling in the shadow of rock and roll. You get the sense of jazz evolving and Chet Baker's place within that - the nights when he could hold an audience spellbound, his encounters with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Baker was desperate to impress Davis, who in return seems to simply be rude and offensive. You also see feel the sheer destructive weight of Baker's personality - the women who fell under his spell only to have their lives shredded by his drug use, violence and manipulation; the children who he only made sporadic attempts to be a father to. There are some shocking anecdotes - a particular one that sticks in the mind is the casual way Baker disposed of the body of someone who'd overdosed in his room. It's hard to disagree with the description of one Italian prosecutor during a much earlier drugs trial, where he said Baker had the "face of an angel, but the heart of a demon."
But beyond all of that, this book is clearly a labour of love written by a fan. Throughout its 800 odd pages, you get the sense of musical appreciation - of acquired knowledge of Baker's best recordings, of the concerts where everything came together and the drugs did not impede Baker's musical gift. You also, from the numerous interviews with those who played with Chet Baker, get a sense of love and respect - that many of those who knew him best could often see beyond his addiction, and found enough good in the man for them to forgive his many flaws. It's hard to see how this book could be bettered as a guide to Chet Baker's life and music.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing for everyone from the superfan to the casual reader, 18 Sep 2012
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When I started this book I knew very little of Chet's work other than the track "Funny Valentine", which is associated with my birthday. Such a flimsy connection led me to order this book, and I can say that it is SO worth a read for fans of the music, 20th Century popular culture, or just people who love a well-written biography which makes you feel like you've come to understand another person's motivations, life and loves. The author has clearly researched this book over many years and continents, and whilst obviously a fan of Baker's work, he is balanced enough to show that Chet caused almost as much pain as he caused joy in his life. Hugely recommended as one of the best biographies of the year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Baker Bio, 31 Aug 2012
By 
Robert M. Freedman "Admirer of I.S." (Gilbert, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Matthew Ruddick's "Funny Valentine - The Story of Chet Baker" is a beautifully written biography of one of the world's major jazz talents. Mr. Ruddick had promised that his work would focus heavily on Baker's music and the people involved with it, and that promise has been fulfilled. Of course a complete telling of the story must also deal with Baker's extra-musical problems but this book keeps them in reasonable proportion to his musical accomplishments.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny Valentine - Matthew Ruddick, 4 Sep 2012
The temptation with a life as chequered as that led by jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker is to dwell on the downward spiral of drug taking, petty theft and turbulent relationships that characterised much of his adult life. Where this excellent book by Matthew Ruddick succeeds is by emphasising that the music is the prism through which Baker should be viewed - of course the sex and drugs can't be ignored but the balance struck here is spot on.

While I had read and mostly enjoyed the previous biography by James Gavin, Ruddick's judgment on the music is so much better. In my view Gavin struggled to separate the personal life and the music once hard drugs came on the scene - for example he dismisses the classic 1979 album `Broken Wing' in a sentence as "...vague and lacklustre..." while Ruddick calls it right as "...Chet's best studio album of the decade...". My guess is that anyone prepared to consider buying a biography of Chet Baker is more likely to agree with Matthew Ruddick's view.

The other point to emphasise is the huge amount of new and detailed research that the author has done in building what is clearly a labour of love. The interviews themselves are brim full of cracking Chet anecdotes, ranging from the suggestion that Chet was briefly getaway driver to stripper come bank robber Jada Conforto, to the time Prince and his entourage were only allowed into a sold out Paris show if the singer was prepared to watch from the top of the fridge behind the bar... (fair play to him Prince did it!). In a way it feels like the book is letting you be a fly on the wall while many of Chet's sidemen swap stories rather like the opening sequence of Woody Allen's `Broadway Danny Rose'. That said where the recollections get hazy and confused the author is there to step in and suggest more likely scenarios - the section on the more fanciful conspiracy theories around Baker's death is particularly good at striking a convincingly balanced tone I think.

Last but not least there is a useful 90 page guide to Chet Baker's somewhat uneven discography - highlighting the gems worthy of our attention yet not flinching from pointing out the recordings where drug money not creativity was more likely to be the motivation. This section could easily be a small book in its own right.

So if you have any interest in Chet Baker there is no contest in my view - this is comfortably the best book on the market. A joy from start to finish this is the work of someone who clearly loves the music and who has carried out an immense amount of work to ensure that Baker's story is properly told. Just buy it, you won't be sorry.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny Valentine by Matthew Ruddick, 7 Aug 2012
Funny Valentine, The Story of Chet Baker
I knew very little about the life of Chet Baker before reading this book - now I feel like I have got under the skin of this jazz legend. A comprehensive yet compellingly written biography - a must read for anyone interested in Chet Baker or life in the jazz world.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny Valentine, The Story of Chet Baker, 15 July 2012
Brilliant! Through great research and writing, Matthew Ruddick has woven a compelling story of the man behind the myth; Chet Baker, famous for his beautiful jazz trumpet and vocals and infamous for his drug addicted downfall. Matthew charts Chet's rise from a wild-child of the fifties to a down-and-desperate man of the eighties but, always, the music winds its way through the heart of the story. Great reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly gargantuan piece of work!, 22 Oct 2012
Biographies often fall into one of two camps. Sycophantic drooling or hatchet jobs! This mammoth piece of work fortunately falls into neither. Whilst it is clear that Mr Ruddick clearly loves Baker's style of music, he is also not afraid to touch on the human frailties of his subject, making this a fascinating read for non jazz fans too. All of this makes this incredible biography more than just a music book, particularly with its fascinating insight into post war American culture. What truly astounds in Ruddick's biography of Chet Baker is the sheer volume of detail. It is breathtaking in its research and clearly apparent from page one that this is not, as is too often the case, a cut and paste job. Throughout the book it genuinely feels as if the author actually knows those he is quoting, taking you to the heart of the subject as an insider, not simply as a reader. A stunning book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars #1 Chet Baker Bio & Ripping Jazz Story, 14 Sep 2012
By 
Todd Stuart Martin (Hong Kong, Kowloon Hong Kong) - See all my reviews
Matthew Ruddick's 800pp "Funny Valentine", an entertaining, meticulously researched and balanced biography of Chet Baker, places Chet's music at the forefront and captures better than any previous attempt the life story character arc of its protagonist: iconic Jazz-man, gifted trumpeter, and all too humanly flawed in both his personal life and extra-curricular dependencies. Most importantly, Mr. Ruddick gives respect and space to let the 200+ individuals he interviewed who knew Chet tell the story from their perspectives and only intervenes when the story calls for interpretation. In the end, you feel like you've gone for the ride whether playing with Chet and Gerry Mulligan at the Haig in the early 50's or late career concerts such as Chet Baker in Tokyo (1987). All of Chet's published live and studio recordings are put in context and reviewed in a nearly 100pp all-encompassing Discography where, interestingly, Mr. Ruddick chooses six of his top "Ten Chet Baker Records Everyone Should Own" from 1975 onwards and five from 1983 to 1987, the final five years of his life.

Early in his career, Chet rockets to #1 trumpeter in Jazz's Downbeat Critics Poll by 1953, rebels against convention and his own self-preservation, spends 15-years struggling to recover and leaves a broad and varied body of work - but "[t]owards the end, on a good night, he could play jazz just as well as it has ever been played," (Mike Zwerin). In fact, this Chet Baker biography would make the perfect basis for "Chet Baker - Funny Valentine - The Screenplay". Clint Eastwood would do well to take note.

My personal favorite segments from Matthew Ruddick's "Funny Valentine - The Story of Chet Baker" include: 1) Chet's missing tooth - Jazz's James Dean with the usually unseen flaw - somehow symbolic and foreboding, 2) Charlie Parker's anointment of Chet - "like a pronouncement from God"..."that young cat just played pure & simple", 3) Miles Davis - never gives Chet an in iota of respect he most craves - his cold reception from Miles at Birdland, 4) the disastrous '56 Europe tour & the death of pianist Dick Twardzik, 5) 1956-through the `60s....rock bottom - in and out of addiction and jail, 6) 1974 through to the twilight years in 1988....comeback and redemption of sorts. In the end, Chet, through his addictions, betrayed most everything and everyone he ever held dear - except for his gift and genius for playing Jazz. He ended up playing some of his best music in his final years of his life, and its Chet's musical genius and legacy that will stand the test of time. Thank you, Matthew Ruddick for your gift to us in putting the story of Chet Baker back into perspective. Highly recommended reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny Valentine by Matthew Ruddick, 26 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker (Paperback)
A superb extensive read for anyone who has followed the career of Chet Baker from his early fame with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Just having previously read 'Straight Life' the life story of Art Pepper many parallels can be drawn between their respective lifestyles. The recent showing of the film 'Let's Get Lost' on the PBSAmerica TV channel helped to further expand our knowledge of the man, his character and his music. I give the book 5 stars !

John
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive book., 25 April 2014
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This review is from: Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker (Paperback)
An often misunderstood and unique musician and performer. Mr B was capable of producing music of sublime beauty and poignancy.A career dogged by drug addiction making his recording output somewhat erratic. The books discography helps guide you through this.
I have read all the books relating to Chet Baker. This is the most detailed and balanced of them all. Exhaustively researched and unbiased in presentation. Owning this book makes all others superfluous. A triumph for Mathew Ruddick
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Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker
Funny Valentine: The Story of Chet Baker by Matthew Ruddick (Paperback - 20 Dec 2013)
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