“He did not influence me, but inspired me all the way.”

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Der 25. November 1987 ist ein trüber Herbsttag in Paris, aber zum Glück regnet es nicht, denn das hätte ein Projekt gefährdet, an dem der französische Regisseur und Fotograf Bertrand Fevre seit einigen Monaten arbeitet. Bertrand  will einen Kurzfilm mit dem amerikanischen Trompeter Chet Baker drehen, sehr puristisch, sehr auf Chet und die Musiker um ihn herum konzentriert. “Simply and pure”, so wie Chet Baker einst seinem Freund, dem belgischen Saxophonisten Jacques Pelzer, empfohlen hatte, zu spielen. “Simply and pure”, so sollte auch Betrand Fevres Film werden, und das gelang an diesem Tag. Im folgenden Jahr lief “Chet’s Romance” bei den Filmfestspielen in Cannes, und wenig später wurde er mit dem höchsten französischen Filmpreis, dem  “César du documentaire” , ausgezeichnet.

Kaum ein halbes Jahr später, am 13. Mai 1988, starb Chet Baker in Amsterdam, und vor diesem Hintergrund kann man Chet’s Romance auch als Chet’s Testament ansehen – in den zehn Minuten des Films zeigt sich noch einmal die ganze Magie dieses Musikers, dessen Leben ein einziger Überlebenskampf war. Ob er diesen letztendlich – im Alter von 58 Jahren – verlor, oder ob er einfach alles gegeben hatte, was ihm möglich war mag jeder so sehen, wie er möchte. Für mich persönlich zählt nicht die Anzahl an gelebten Jahren, sondern das, was man aus der einem gegebenen Zeit gemacht hat.

Ich sprach mit Bertrand Fevre über den 25. November 1987 und seinen Film. Und danke ihm an dieser Stelle ganz herzlich für die Zeit, die er für mich aufbringen konnte. Wir haben das Gespräch auf Englisch geführt, und da das weder Bertrands, noch meine Muttersprache ist, bitten wir sehr um Nachsicht für eventuelle Fehler.

Chet and Bertrand on the set of "Chet's Romance. November 25th 1987. Photography: Ariane Smolderen.

Bertrand, what kind of day was november, 25th, 1987 in Paris? Do you remember any circumstances?

I did not see much of that day or hear anything about it, being locked in the studio from early in the morning until late at night.

My whole world was inside that big black and smoky Parisian studio. I was focused on that one day shooting, nothing else. I know it did not rain that day, as I was worried of the sound of raindrops on the metal roof: that studio was not soundproof!

I knew anything could happen that day, directing my second short movie, a filmed portrait of a jazz legend, which is in reality a sincere love letter to Chet and his music.

Since when were you planning this project? When did you talk to Chet about this the first time?

I had that film in mind for about two months before the shooting. I called a friend producer, Jean-Marie Duprez, to ask him if he would go for it. He told me yes right away.

Chet accepted the concept immediately too: a one day shooting, one song, two cameras 35mm Scope. I went to see him in Rome to fix all details with him a few weeks before the shooting day.

What was his opinon about the project? Was he reluctant at first, or open?

“Because all I have to give ist music.”

Chet Baker in: Chet’s Romance

Chet trusted me all the time since we met a few months earlier on that friday, february 13th, 1987.  He agreed all my proposals, until having him dressed that way and shaved! The whole story was under the “cool” and confident understanding. Smooth and gentle, no tension at all.

Did he influence your ideas about the film, or was he confidential and let you do your work freely?

We talked about some ideas, but not much. The idea was pure and simple.  He did not influence me but inspired me all the way.

In which physical condition was Chet at the time?

For those who know Chet, he could be fine or kind of “out of it”, depending on how he could satisfy his drug addiction.

This could be the case on a same day, stoned at twelve, fine in the evening, or the opposite… He was always cool and gentle with me and perfectly fine and aware on the shooting. I confess I was scared before he appeared in the studio that a problem of this type might happen.

Can you tell us a few facts about the location and other circumstances of making the film?

The location was a studio in the center of Paris 11th district, made for photo shootings or playback music videos. The risk was, as I already mentionned, in case of rain for the noise. We were lucky for a november day in Paris!

I loved the space and the stairway that Chet could use to join the musicians on the stage.  We had the studio painted all black the day before, so it was smelling fresh paint, I remember.

The films starts with an announcement, but this is from another era long ago – why did you choose this announcement?

I found that announcement coming from a radio recording of a concert in the late 50s. It was perfect to introduce Chet’s appearance in the beginning of the film. I liked the rythm of the voice and the humoristic irony of the “No smoking, please…”.

Yes, I recognized that irony, seeing Chet smoking in the first seconds of the film. Who decided, which title Chet should perform, and why this song?

The first to name that song while in Rome was Diana, Chet’s last great love. Chet did not use to sing it often, but loved it.

“I’m a fool to want you” is written by Wolff and Herron, co-signed by Sinatra who was the first to record it. It is also known for the unforgetable interpretation of Billie Holiday. To me, it is a total and ultimate love declaration, as “Ne me quittes pas” (“If you go away”) by Jacques Brel.
A desperate love, painful, extreme and fatal as an addiction.

It resumes in one song what could have been Chet’s pains all life long, for drugs, music and love.

Chet at make-up with George Brown (drummer) and Michele Constantinides (make-up artist) on the set of Chet's Romance. November 25th 1987. Photograhy: Ariane Smolderen.

Riccardo del Fra, the bass player, was an old pal of Chet, and with drummer George Brown he was touring in these weeks, I saw Chet with them just three weeks, after you made the film. But with Alain Jean-Marie he never played before – do you know, how he came into play?

Chet used to play with Michel Graillier, one of the finest pianist he ever played with among many great ones. I guess a problem might have appeared at that time and Chet pointed Alain Jean-Marie for the film as well as Riccardo del Fra and George Brown that we had to go and get in his bed the same morning to have him on time on the set!

Just to tell our readers – Michel was the stepson of Jacques Pelzer, Chet’s closest friend over so many years. Michel died quite young a few years ago. He was a great musician, who played amongs others with the famous french group Magma, and even in duo with Michel Petrucciani.

Well, I think, the playing of Chet and Alain that day in november fits perfectly together, and Alains short solo before Chet starts playing his trumpet is pure magic; it is a pity that Alain and Chet didn’t play on more occasions  …

It would have happened for sure if Chet had lived longer. Alain is a wonderful man and musician, a perfect delicate and inspired sideman for Chet Baker.

I have so many discs of Chet’s recordings, but for me, the first notes of his solo in your film are the most moving notes, he ever played. They include everything, his music was able to express, so fragile, so true, so human … I get goosebumps just from thinking of it. What is your opinion about Chet’s performance that day?

I believe Chet offered me the best he could that day. He was certainly very aware of the importance of that film. I wanted him to both play and sing for me, I love his voice as much as the sound of his trumpet.

He first played a rehearsal to set the sound recording, the movements of the camers, the variations of lights, etc…  That version was more than 12 minutes, which was over the lenght of my film reel, limited to about 11 minutes.

As we were filming the whole song in one sequence, I had to ask Chet to make it shorter, what he did.  Then we recorded three takes and stayed on the third, the one you can hear and see in “Chet’s Romance”.

What was in your mind during the recording? Did You feel, that this was a very special moment, or were you fully occupied by doing your work as a director?

Unexpectedly, I was extremely calm and confident that day, serene. The crew and I felt something deeply magic was caught by our camera, something timeless, important for the memory, beyond the jazz music. And all went in a perfect harmony between technique and music.

On each take, after I said “Cut” we all gave spontaneous applauses, mesmerized by the beauty of the music, the superb gift from that great poet that Chet was.

What was Chet’s reaction, when he saw your film the first time? And do you think, he could be … how to say … “moved by himself or his music” ?

Chet was the first to see the film, in march 15th 1988. I wanted him to see it before anybody else. The first thing he said after was: “I did not realize I had so many lines…”.

Oh how funny!

Yes … I know he liked it a lot, as he told to Micheline Pelzer, close friend of Chet and drummer, belgian saxophonist Jacques Pelzer ‘s daughter.

I have a photo with you and Chet and some other people, that was taken on march, 15th, 1988 in Paris – were you in constant contact between filming in Autumn 1987 and the following spring? Why I ask: Did you think during that time, that Chet was more and more fading away? Just two months later, on may 13th, he died …

Chet Baker und Bertrand Fevre, Paris, 15. März 1988 (photo courtesy Betrand Fevre)

I saw Chet many times in the following weeks. We had a great moment in Cannes in april, where the film was shown for the first time to an audience. After the screening, the screen was lifted up and Chet and his musicians appeared on the stage behind the screen and started to play. Since then, I always dream that Chet could appear after the screening of “Chet’s romance” the same way…

A while after, the film was selected at the official selection of the 1988 Cannes film Festival. Chet was extremely proud of this. We then decided he would come for the presentation in May. The last time I saw Chet was the day my producer organised the real “premiere” of the film, in Montmartre, Paris, in Claude Lelouch’s private cinema. It was crowded that evening and Chet did not show up. I was sorry and kept an empty seat at my side along the three screenings, longing for him to come.

The same night, he was playing at the New Morning. Many friends from the screening came. Chet appeared that night extremely weak and gave a very sad concert. He looked so fragile and tired. He sang with the lips stuck to the microphone, including “I’m a fool to want you”. After the first set, I went backstage to see him and asked him why he did not show up for the “premiere” at 6:30PM. He said “I’m sorry, but why didn’t you wake me up?”. He then did another complete set, tragically beautiful, but the whole audience felt unconfortable seing him so weak, desperate.

At the end, people were leaving silently. I took one rose off a bouquet of roses I was gently offered for the screening, and went on stage where Chet was slowly packing his trumpet. I called him “Chet!”. He faced me, took the white rose and hugged me whispering “Thanks” at my ear while I was whispering the same word to him. Then he left. In may, I was expecting him quietly in Cannes, but on friday the 13th, a couple of days before the presentation, I learned that Chet Baker was found dead in Amsterdam.

“Chet’s romance” was highly awarded, so with the César du documentaire 1989. But there might be more to come – you told me, you have so much interesting material around the session – would you like to tell some words about this material and what plans you have?

I am a photographer too, and I made many B&W photos of Chet before and after the film shooting. On the set, I asked two photographers to make B&W photos too, in 24x36mm and 6x6cm. So there are plenty very rare photos to make a book. I also made an interview of 30 minutes with Chet on the set, to be used in parts in the movie. The second take is wondeful too, as an alternate take. I had the chance to make in 2003 a 26 minutes long documentary on William Claxton, the great photographer of jazz who made many wonderful photos of the early Chet Baker years, that you can see on many covers of his albums: “Chet by Claxton”. All these elements, most of them never shown or heard yet, could make a wonderful tribute to Chet, including “Chet’s Romance”, of course.

How exciting! This material must be published, Bertrand, and I hope for you and all admirers of your film and Chet of course, that this will happen in next future. Dear Bertrand, thank you so much. Today in one month, on december 23th, would be Chet’s 83th birthday – impossible to imagine to know him still alive, or …?

Chet is still alive in my soul, all the time. Thank you so much Archi.

Chet Baker, Ostia Italien 1987 (Foto (c) Betrand Fevre)

Bertrand Antoine Fevre bei Facebook. Hier kann man auch seine wunderbaren Fotografien sehen.

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