Adelaide Cabaret Festival – Tim Draxl in ‘Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey’

 Chet Baker’s smooth androgynous vocal timbre and melancholic trumpet tones are synonymous with West Coast Jazz of the 1950s.

 Presented by: Adelaide Cabaret FestivalVenue: Festival Theatre Stage Saturday, 18 June, 2011  Tim Draxl - The Chet Baker JourneyChet Baker’s smooth androgynous vocal timbre and melancholic trumpet tones are synonymous with West Coast Jazz of the 1950s. He was famous for his immense talent and musicality, and infamous for his ‘matinee idol beauty, emotionally remote performances and well publicised drug habit’. He was the James Dean of jazz, the epitome of cool. But, as is the case with countless musical greats, there was a troubled soul behind the hits. 
International cabaret award winner, Tim Draxl, teamed with writer Bryce Hallett to pen Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey – the story of the man behind the music. Last night, the Chet Baker Journey was hauntingly relived, to a sell-out crowd at the Adelaide Festival Theatre.
Draxl, who shares an undeniable affinity with Baker’s music (invariably performing a work once touched by Chet Baker in his cabaret acts or albums), is perfect for the part. He drifts seamlessly between narrator and the voice of the musical genius himself, adopting a southern American accent for quoting Baker’s view of the world. He artfully reveals anecdotes that further enhance the musical portrait of a complex Chet Baker (Chet was initially given a trombone, but due to his size he couldn’t fully extend the slide, so his father brought home a trumpet instead – thank goodness for that!).
From the opening number, ‘My Funny Valentine’ with Dave Ellis on double bass, I knew we were in for something special. In fact, the sound quality of the three-piece ensemble, lead by Ray Aldridge on piano, was faultless throughout the night. And the intensely personal trumpeting of Eamon McNelis never failed to produce a mid-song ovation. On more than one occasion I thought to myself ‘I hope the sound guys are recording this!’
There are clear musical similarities between Baker and Draxl. Singing in a reserved manner – a subtle nod to Baker – Draxl superbly treads the line between impersonation and inspiration. The careless sleeve rolling and skinny tie introduced Draxl’s own brand of cool, and the ambience in the table-filled unconventional Adelaide Festival Theatre Stage was no doubt a space that Chet Baker himself would have been proud to play.
Crowd favourites of the night included ‘Lets Get Lost’, ‘Look for the Silver Lining’, ‘Everything Happens to Me’ – where Chet bemoans his chronic bad luck – and of course, ‘My Funny Valentine’. A personal favourite of mine was ‘My Buddy’, which appeared on Draxl’s breakthrough album Ordinary Miracles (2000).
Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey catalogues a childhood, a jazz sensation, a drug habit (including drug related incarcerations), and an eternal wanderer – right through to his tragic end in Amsterdam aged 58. There’s no melodrama, only raw honesty. This polished ensemble seemed to do no wrong, with the audience only lamenting the show’s brevity. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give is that I now can’t decide whether to buy a Chet Baker album or a Tim Draxl album – perhaps I’ll do the double. 
June 17-18 

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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