Thursday, April 14, 2016

Born to Be Blue (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Born to Be Blue” Doesn’t Need to Be Blue
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Rating music goes back (at least) to Dick Clark’s “Bandstand,” that old TV dance-a-thon. High School Girl: “I’d give it an 86 because you can dance to it.”

Today, we’ve become attuned to musical performances being judged on programs like “America Idol” and “The Voice.”

So you shouldn’t find it odd when I share a rating on “Born to Be Blue.” This new biopic about legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker, Jr. earned his fame as a trumpeter, flugelhornist, and vocalist. Born in Oklahoma, he came from a musical family. His father was a professional guitar player; his mother a talented pianist. After a stint is the church choir, he took up the trumpet. At 16 he joined the Army and began playing in the 298th Army band. His career soared when he started performing with such greats as Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1950 he began using heroin, a drug habit that had him in and out of jail. After getting his teeth knocked out in a fight, he had to re-learn how to play the horn. He regained his career by performing in Europe. At 58, he died in Amsterdam from a fall while under the influence of drugs.

A pioneer of West Coast jazz, he was known for his bluesy version of “My Funny Valentine.” His compositions included “Chetty’s Lullaby,” “Freeway,” “Early Morning Mood,” “New Morning Blues,” “Blue Gilles,” and “Anticipated Blues.”

Chet Baker was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987.

Written and directed by Robert Budreau, “Born to Be Blue” is a re-imagining of Chet Baker’s rise and fall and comeback.

What drove Baker? Addiction. Heroin? Did it stunt his musical growth or fuel it. You can be the judge.

For our Bandstand-like rating, we turn to Rotten Tomatoes. The Chet Baker movie scored a healthy 86%. Other recent musical biopics have fared less well. The new Miles Davis movie (“Miles Ahead”) is coming in at 71%. And the Hank Williams movie (“I Saw the Light”) scored a paltry 19%.

No need for ol’ Chet to be blue.

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