Freeway - The Chet Baker Journey, is heading to Auckland as part of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Season. Chet Baker was the prototype of 20th-century cool. His movie star looks and honeyed vocals won him pop stardom, while his effortless trumpet playing earned the respect of the jazz elite.
We caught up with Tim Draxl who is stars in the show.
How did you get involved with Freeway?
It all came about in 2010. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and I was kind of traveling back and forth between LA and Sydney. I was doing some cabaret shows in Sydney which I had been doing for quite a long time. My shows basically consisted of a repertoire of music of songs that I just kind of drawn to or they were kind of very eclectic, and someone suggested as a change to do a show about someone specific and choose one person’s music; rather than just keep doing shows with lots of different peoples music.
I normally sang Chet Baker’s version of 'My Funny Valentine' at my show, and it was a song that kind of resonated with people and resonated with me because I love Chet Baker. And I think people liked it because my voice has a similar kind of tone. And it was suggested that I do a show about Chet Baker and I got in touch with my friend Bryce Hallett, who was at that stage the arts writer and critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, and we started coming up for the concept for the show and while I was in LA we were skype-ing back and forth and it was at the end of 2010 that we had our first incarnation of the show. It’s kind of developed since then.
So you were really familiar with Chet Baker beforehand then?
Yeah, I knew kind of parts of his life and his story. And I obviously knew a lot of his music. But it wasn’t until we actually started writing the show that I started doing the research. I got much more interested in his life and I didn’t realise how on edge his life was… how he kind of pushed his life to the limits. He was an explosive character which is what I found most intriguing about him because when you listen to his music it’s very kind of soft, gentle and romantic. So it’s a complete kind of juxtaposition to who he was as a person in his day to day life. So that was fascinating to me.
And you'll be bringing some musicians over to help?
I’ve got my musical director who has been on this show since the beginning; Ray Aldridge, who is probably one of Sydney’s best jazz pianists. And then the other three musicians are new musicians who have come on board with this. The great thing about this show is that it’s very compact… it’s easy to tour with and easy to slot musicians into.
It’s such a compact show that I’ve been doing since 2010, so it doesn’t take to much to get it back up on its feet. It’s fun in that overtime that we do it it kind of takes on a new energy, and goes to that next level. And overtime we change our musicians, if certain people can’t make the dates that we need, it brings out an extra something of spontaneity and freshness to the piece.
What is the most challenging part portraying Chet Baker?
The most challenging thing is not to let it become an impersonation of Chet. It is the essence of Chet… the spirit of him. But it was a very conscious decision from the beginning not to make it a complete reenactment of him. There are parts of the show where I narrate, and other parts where I speak as though I am Chet. So it’s kind of like with the help of lighting & music, it’s the spirit of him… and him telling his own story. But in no way is it an impersonation.
Also, there’s so many negative stories about him. There’s a fantastic documentary which was directed by Bruce Weber, and it’s the only documentary that has ever been made about Chet Baker’s life. And when you watch it, it’s apparent very quickly that we wasn’t really liked by many people. He used a lot of his friends… he used a lot of his relationships to get what he wanted and he burnt a lot of bridges. But in this show we really didn’t want to focus on those negative aspects of his life. They are certainly there and they are spoken of, and his particular his drug habits which consumed his life. But it is more a celebration of him and a testament to his legacy and the incredible music that he left us with.
Freeway - The Chet Baker Story
Oct 1 - 2: Town Hall, Auckland
Tickets via Auckland Live