Chet Baker was the ultimate screw up – with film star looks, the softest voice and crooning trumpet, he was meant to take over the world, but instead ended up defenestrated before he was sixty. In Freeway cabaret star Tim Draxl has created a retrospective work, channeling Baker in every way except for the chaotic and destructive persona that crept behind him his whole life, the ultimate example in modern society’s struggle to look at the ongoing feud between genius and disaster.
And Chet Baker was a disaster, churning his way through addictions, prisons and women, leaving his figure at the age of 58 ravaged and ancient. It’s understandable how hard it was for Draxl, with a stellar cabaret background and astounding four piece ensemble, to cover the whole story to a sympathetic and knowledgeable audience. The addictions and fast cars (and the emphasis by Draxl, whether it is to make him more palatable or not, is on the fast cars) shapes the Chet Baker legacy. To me the problem of Baker is finding a way to reconcile the smoothness, the coolness of his jazz with his troubled life behind the scenes.
Which makes Draxl’s position so difficult; his performance is engaging and flawless, and that’s just the point. When the lights change and he becomes Chet narrating his life, you can see that he, a seasoned cabaret performer, understands, connects, with so many parts of his life. But when he is narrating Baker’s life to the audience, and sometimes even when he is singing, when Draxl is singing Baker almost note and sultry-perfect, when he is scored along with is amazing, seasoned backing band, even though you are enjoying yourself, part of you nostalgic for why you connected with Baker in the first place. Though Draxl and his ensemble give a remarkable performance, and the recounting of his life is informative without being overwhelming, when watching Freeway, you do find yourself searching for the more definitive cracks, that made the light get in.