When the clean-cut young Baker came out of the army in 1952 and played his first high-profile gigs with Charlie Parker, he had the kind of matinee-idol looks that suggested he would become a star. His clear-toned vibratoless trumpet style owed a lot to Miles Davis, but the introverted phrasing was all his own, as was Baker's surprisingly delicate singing voice.
After coming to national attention with Gerry Mulligan's quartet, and a hit with My Funny Valentine, Baker formed his own group, and for the middle to late 1950s made a series of successful discs that boosted his path to stardom. However, he was by then a serious heroin addict, and his world collapsed in 1960 when he was sentenced to a prison term while on tour in Italy. The 1960s became a decade of decline, and Baker's face became deeply lined and haggard.
Losing his teeth forced him to give up playing for a while, but he fought back in the 1970s and although he never bcame free of the shadow of drugs, he resumed his place among the world's leading jazz trumpeters. His later recordings lack the easy brilliance of his earlier playing, but within his narrow range and soft tone, he found new levels of expressivity. He fell to his death out of a window in Amsterdam, supposedly because of yet another nefarious involvement in the world of narcotics.