The story of David Baker, who died at 84 on March 26, is indelible for many reasons.
As a composer, educator, trombonist and cellist, he was named both a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2000 and a Living Jazz Legend by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007.
I was first drawn to Baker’s music through the 1987 premiere of “Ellingtones,” which featured the New York Philharmonic, conducted by James DePreist, and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, in a trio with pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Ron Carter. I’d never heard jazz in such a classical setting before.
And I’d never heard a musical voice like Baker’s as composer. The experience sent me backward and then forward through Baker’s recordings, and it opened my mind.
Baker’s bold creativity was evident from the start of his career, and especially through his work as trombonist and composer on a series of groundbreaking recordings by pianist and composer George Russell. His resilience and persistence was singularly inspiring. As Margalit Fox noted in a New York Times obituary:
Mr. Baker’s laurels are all the more noteworthy in that he had been forced to reinvent his musical career three times: first when he was barred from making his way as a classical trombonist because of his race; second when, as a jazzman, he had to forsake the trombone after a devastating jaw injury; and third when he was driven from a teaching job because he had married a white woman.
And yet Baker leapt over any and all barriers, and ultimately combined all his interests and aspirations. He helped articulate an understanding of jazz as an expression of Black culture, and, as Fox notes, he “helped bring jazz studies into the academy at a time when the ivory tower considered the field infra dig.”
In fact, Baker’s greatest legacy is perhaps expressed through the courses of study and consciousness he established at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he was distinguished professor.
Now, friends of Baker, with the support of his widow, are putting together a recording titled Basically Baker Volume 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker featuring the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra. All proceeds generated by sales of the recording will go directly to the David N. Baker Scholarship Fund to provide a financial means for prospective students to attend the Jacobs School of Music Jazz Studies Program. The CD will be released by Patois Records. An added feature of this project is the rerelease of “Basically Baker, Vol I,” recorded in 2005, which made Downbeat Magazine’s “100 best Recordings of the Decade” list in 2010.
To support this worthy project, go here—and do it now: The indiegogo campaign ends June 12.
Here’s my brief interview with Brent Wallarab, who played under Baker’s direction with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and teaches at the Jacobs School, about his mentor’s legacy. Continue reading “Help Honor and Extend David Baker's Towering Legacy”