It's this period in Baker's life that's the subject of Toronto filmmaker Robert Budreau's feature film, "Born to be Blue," starring A-lister Ethan Hawke in the title role and shot in Sudbury last year.
As well as appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, "Born to be Blue" is the Sept. 26 gala film presentation at Sudbury's own Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival.
Although a biopic, the film does deviate from cold, hard facts. While Baker was approached to appear in a movie about his life, he turned down this offer. "Born to be Blue" re-imagines that the movie was made.
“Although it's about Chet Baker, it's really about exploring themes of addiction, art, love and race at a time in America where race was even more of an issue than it is now,” said Budreau.
“To me, it's the universal themes that are still culturally relevant that I think people will be attracted to.”
Budreau said he's long been a fan of jazz, and has filmed several other movies on this subject.
That includes the 2009 short "The Deaths of Chet Baker," an exploration of the mysteries surrounding Baker's death — he was found dead below an Amsterdam hotel window in 1988.
Budreau, who grew up in North Bay, said he loved returning to the North to film "Born to be Blue."
“Having a smaller town feel, it creates more of a community with your film crew, and people are generally a bit more friendly with film up there than in Toronto, where they've been burned in the past,” he said.
Of course, it was a bit of a challenge making Sudbury in November look like 1960s California. Palm trees were even erected along Elgin Street while filming took place in the downtown.
“We just had to be very clever with our locations and what we showed,” Budreau said.
So what was it like working with Hawke? Budreau said it was great, as Hawke is very down-to-earth, and as a fellow music fan, he was very committed to the role and to an accurate portrayal of Baker.
“He was a pure joy to work with,” Budreau said, adding that Hawke understands indie filmmakers, as he's one himself.
Bad news for Sudburians hoping to catch a glimpse of Hawke at Cinéfest, though. While Budreau — along with producer Leonard Farlinger, and perhaps some cast and crew — will attend the Cinéfest screening, Hawke can't make it.
Hawke is currently filming "The Magnificent Seven" along with Denzel Washington in California.
If you aren't able to catch "Born to be Blue" at Cinéfest, don't despair — Budreau said the film's Canadian distributor, Entertainment One, will releasing the film in theatres sometime next year.
To view the full Cinéfest lineup, or to purchase tickets, visit www.cinefest.com.