York U trumpet guru channels Chet Baker in Born to be Blue

April 5, 2016

York U trumpet guru channels Chet Baker in Born to be Blue

York University jazz instructor, trumpet player Kevin Turcotte showcases his extraordinary command of his instrument in performing the sounds of Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, the new Baker biopic starring Ethan Hawke.

Baker was a legendary trumpeter and singer who became a jazz icon in the 1950s and later became equally famous for his drug addiction. Born to Be Blue, directed by Robert Budreau, re-imagines Baker’s life in the late ‘60s after he suffers a beating that jeopardizes his musical career.

Following its critically-acclaimed world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film was released theatrically in selected North American cities in March 2016, topping US specialty film charts. It’s currently screening in downtown Toronto (at TIFF Bell Lightbox to April 7) and in other Canadian cities.

As principal trumpet player on the Born to be Blue soundtrack, Turcotte not only recorded the music that’s heard when Hawke plays as Baker; in one scene, he also plays for both Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Film still: Ethan Hawk as Chet Baker in 'Born to be Blue'

Film still: Ethan Hawk as Chet Baker in ‘Born to be Blue’

Turcotte called it “a great thrill” to be a part of the Toronto-based studio band for the film (which also included York music alumnus, saxophonist Mike Murley).

“Drummer Terry Clarke and bassist Steve Wallace actually played with Chet [Baker] in Toronto in the 1980s, and I was lucky enough to be part of a tribute concert in 2007 featuring an international group of Chet’s former sidemen,” said Turcotte.

During the four-day audio recording session, a video camera was always pointed at Turcotte’s fingers. Hawke – who also took trumpet lessons to get into character – studied the footage of Turcotte to prepare for the scenes in the film where he mimes playing the trumpet.

Kevin Turcotte

Kevin Turcotte

For Turcotte, working on Born to be Blue was an immensely creative and satisfying experience.

“I loved the fact that [the director] Budreau decided not to use any actual Chet Baker recordings in the film, so I could go for the spirit of Chet’s music while referencing his style, rather than simply transcribing and recreating his original solos,” Turcotte said.

“Instead of changing my embouchure and searching out period-specific horn and mouthpiece combinations, I was able to play on my own instrument while varying things like microphone proximity, vibrato and the amount of air in the sound for effect.”

As one professional performer to another, Turcotte gives a tip of the hat to the actor portraying the troubled jazz legend: “Having seen the movie, it’s evident to me that Ethan Hawke invested a lot of time and effort in studying Chet, his music and the trumpet.  I enjoyed his portrayal.”

A CD of the soundtrack for Born to be Blue, featuring liner notes by Grammy Award-winning York music professor, ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman, has been released by Warner Music Canada.