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Fascinating detail on Chet Baker

"If you put chord changes in front of [Chet Baker], it didn't mean anything to him. He would say in a self-deprecating way, 'Well I don't know the chord changes to the song.' . . . We would go and sit in with bands, often playing until five in the morning, and any of the songs they would play, Chet knew. But he would ask a question that would puzzle the other players. 'What's my starting note?' he'd ask. They thought he was putting them on or something, but all he wanted was the first note on the trumpet so he would know where to start the piece. From there he could navigate any song by ear. Sometimes the other players would try to fool him. They might try to trick him by playing 'All the Things You Are' in E or 'Body and Soul' in B rather than D flat. But Chet would have no problems with doing that. It was the other musicians who ended up struggling—they had tried to give Chet problems, but they just caught up themselves." --Larry Bunker, as told to Ted Gioia

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