Actor and director Ethan Hawke plays jazz legend Chet Baker in his latest film, but his personal connection to music goes beyond any single role. In his Guest DJ set, he shares the Wilco song that helped him through hard times, celebrates the neverending creativity of Willie Nelson, and shares some jazz favorites. Born to Be Blue is in theaters now.
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- Chet Baker - "Everything Happens To Me"
- Branford Marsalis - "Mo' Better Blues"
- Marta Gomez - "The Circle"
- Willie Nelson - "Summertime"
- Wilco - "More Like The Moon"
Hosted by Liza Richardson.
Liza Richardson: Hi, I’m Liza Richardson from KCRW and I’m here with acclaimed actor and director, Ethan Hawke. In his latest film Born To Be Blue, he stars as jazz legend Chet Baker and today we are here to talk music. We welcome Ethan to our studios to share 5 songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Ethan, welcome.
Ethan Hawke: Thanks for having me on your show.
LR: So tell us, when did you first come across Chet Baker’s music?
EH: My relationship to Chet Baker stems back to Bruce Weber’s film Let’s Get Lost. And I have to admit that probably my whole jazz education started around the time I graduated high school, when Around Midnight came out, Bird, and Let’s Get Lost.
And it was just a great entry point to fall in love with jazz. I find that Chet is a really easy person. You know, Miles Davis is a blistering genius and sometimes your ears need to be taught how remarkable that music is. It’s the same with any kind of like great punk music, or great anything, it’s a little hard to get into it.
The song I picked to start with, is a song called “Everything Happens to Me,” which I just think is the greatest. It comes off his album Chet in Paris, which to my mind is probably his best album musically.
Song: Chet Baker – “Everything Happens to Me”
EH: I find that all art aspires to be music. I mean, it’s the base. Nothing gives you mood, tone, its non-verbal. Music is, you know it’s the church of my choice. I guess where some people turn to religion, I turn to music.
It’s something I feel like unites us, it brings us together. You know I can grow up and know nothing about the streets of LA and then you can listen to Public Enemy and feel like you understand it, you know? This movie Chet Baker, the Born To Be Blue movie turned me on. I started because I was trying to get into it. I didn’t just listen to Chet, you know, I listed to Miles, I listened to Art Pepper, I’m discovering Hampton Hawes, I’m discovering… and because I had a reason, most people don’t have -- I had a reason to try to understand jazz and take my knowledge of it to another level. I thought the key to Chet was not his own music, but what did he like listening to. He liked Billy Holiday, he liked, you know, he loved Miles, you know, Birth of the Cool, it was everything to him.
LR: So that’s "Everything Happens to Me," it’s Chet Baker. Our next song today is "Mo’ Better Blues" and it’s by Branford Marsalis. Why did you pick this one?
EH: Well I picked it because when I was working on this movie I had to try to learn to play the trumpet. You know, obviously I couldn’t learn to play on the level anywhere close to a professional trumpet player. But, one of the things that inspired me, was watching Denzel in Mo’ Better Blues. It’s just a phenomenal performance, and there’s so many scenes in that movie that are really, really remarkable; the kind of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore. And Spike Lee’s father wrote a track in it, that when this movie came out, as much as anything Chet Baker did or anything, that movie really opened me up to jazz, it made me excited about jazz, it made the world of jazz so sexy and interesting and, you know, back in the day when you used to make mixed tapes, right? Well this is the only track that whether I’m making a mix tape or a playlist or whatever, this is a no-brainer. I put this on every mix I’ve ever made for anybody. It’s one of my favorite tracks of all time.
Song: Brandford Marsalis – “Mo ‘Better Blues”
LR: So that’s Brandford Marsalis, the song is "Mo’ Better Blues," the choice of our guest DJ, Ethan Hawke. What did you bring next?
EH: Well, I figured given the opportunity to have 5 songs, I couldn’t help but think of Kris Kristofferson.
Kris always took really seriously the role of the artist in the community. Just like that old fashioned Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan tradition of telling stories. This is "The Circle." It’s a really beautiful song about one of the first days that Bill Clinton took office there was some terrorist and he was trying to show that he was going to be tough. You know, the Republicans were accusing him of not being tough and so he fired these missiles to kill these bad guys and accidentally killed this really beautiful teacher.
And Kristofferson found this story and was wondering why nobody would talk about her life. And so he wrote a song about her. It’s called "The Circle," and Kris sings it very beautifully, but I was really taken by this cover by Marta Gomez.
Song: Marta Gomez – “The Circle”
LR: So, that is "The Circle," it’s by Kris Kristofferson and done there by Marta Gomez. And next we have a country icon. How does this fit into the set you brought for us?
EH: In many ways, Willie Nelson is a jazz guitarist. I mean, if given the chance to talk about music, as famous as he is, I don’t think people talk about him enough.
I think he’s one of the great songwriters of our time and one of the great guitarists. I’ve seen him play live and I’ve seen him play in a recording studio and if there’s anybody who has a touch of Miles Davis, it’s Willie Nelson.
I mean the way that he hears music is so exciting. He’s in his 8th decade, he’s provided us with so much great art, and he clearly loves it. He’s not up there setting himself on fire, and he’s still just as interesting and viable. When I think about whether he’s writing songs for Patsy Cline, whether he’s reinventing what country is with Red Headed Stranger, whether he’s bringing country to jazz with the album Stardust, or, this year, I mean this is why I brought this in -- this song just came out, Willie Nelson singing “Summertime”. And the fact that this guy can reinterpret these old songs and make it relevant for a modern audience. And he makes this ancient song so exciting again.
Song: Willie Nelson -- “Summertime”
LR: That’s the choice of our guest DJ, Ethan Hawke. It’s “Summertime” and done there by Willie Nelson. I salute you for choosing 5 songs, I know how hard it is.
EH: It’s very difficult.
LR: But here is your last one. What is this?
EH: Well, I’m trying to find some reason why this fits into the country jazz mix that we’re creating.
LR: Does it have to have a reason?
EH: It kind of does, only in it’s like where alt country meets what Miles Davis would be doing if he was interested in alt country.
But, I picked this, it’s a lesser known Wilco song. I guess for me Wilco has a soft spot in my heart because I think right as I was coming of age musically Uncle Tupelo was taking off and then when Uncle Tupelo split up into Son Volt and Wilco, I followed both those bands with interest.
And it’s just been fun to watch an artist of my generation just continue to be so interesting and so exciting, both building on the past and being present now. I always, I think of that great movie, The Last Waltz, and think, well who of my generation could be on the stage with those guys? And I think of Jeff Tweedy and the band Wilco, they deserve to be on that stage.
This is a song that got me through my divorce. I moved into a hotel and it was just one of the worst couple years of my life, and I just played this song over and over again, and in a way it was, if you were sitting in the bottom of a well it was the rope. I just love this song.
LR: That’s “More Like the Moon”, it’s by Wilco, the choice of our guest DJ, Ethan Hawke on KCRW. So, Ethan, thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com.
EH: It’s my pleasure, I love this station.
Ethan Hawke, actor