David Nathaniel Baker Jr. (December 21, 1931 – March 26, 2016) was an American symphonic jazz composer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music inBloomington. He has more than 65 recordings, 70 books, and 400 articles to his credit.
Baker was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and attended Crispus Attucks High School. He was educated at Indiana University, earning the Bachelor of Music degree in 1953 and the Master of Music in 1954. Baker studied with J. J. Johnson, János Starker, and George Russell.
His first teaching position was at Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri in 1955. Lincoln is a historic black institution, but it had recently begun to admit a broad diversity of students. Baker was resigned his position under threats of violence after he had eloped to Chicago to marry white opera singer Eugenia (“Jeannie”) Marie Jones. Missouri still had anti-miscegenation laws. One of Baker’s students at Lincoln University was the composer John Elwood Price.
Baker thrived in the Indianapolis jazz scene of the time, serving as a mentor of sorts to Indianapolis-born trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Originally a talented trombonist, he was forced to abandon that instrument after a jaw injury left him unable to play (although he played on the George Russell Sextet album Ezz-thetics after sustaining the injury).
Following the injury, he learned to play cello, a rare instrument in the jazz world.
Author and teacher
Baker’s shift to cello largely ended his career as a performer and marked a period of increased interest in composition and pedagogy. Among the first and most important people to begin to codify the then largely aural tradition of jazz he wrote several seminal books on jazz, including Jazz Improvisation in 1988.
Baker taught in the Jazz Studies Department at Indiana University. As an educator he helped make Indiana University a highly regarded destination for students of jazz. Probably the best known students to pass under his tutelage are Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, Jim Beard, Chris Botti, Jeff Hamilton, and the jazz-education mogul Jamey Aebersold.
Baker’s compositional works are often cited as examples of the Third Stream Jazz movement, although they run the gamut from traditional jazz compositions intended for improvisation, to through-composed symphonic works. He has written over 2,000 compositions.
Mr. Baker was commissioned by more than 500 individuals and ensembles, including Josef Gingold, Ruggerio Ricci, Janos Starker, Harvey Phillips, the New York Philharmonic, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Beaux Arts Trio, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Trumpeter David Coleman, Louisville Symphony, Ohio Chamber Orchestra, the Audubon String Quartet, and the International Horn Society. His compositions, tallying over 2,000 in number, range from jazz and sonatas to film scores. He received significant media attention for his Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra, premiered in Chicago in October 2006, with a European premiere in Dvorak Hall, Prague, Czech Republic.
Awards and honors
Baker was nominated for the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. He has also been nominated for a Grammy Award (1979). He was honored three times by Down Beat magazine: as a trombonist, for lifetime achievement, and most recently, in 1994, as the third inductee to their jazz Education Hall of Fame. He received the National Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame Award (1981), President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (1986) from Indiana University, the Arts Midwest Jazz Masters Award (1990), and the Governor’s Arts Award of the State of Indiana (1991).
A dedicated music educator as well as composer and performer, Mr. Baker’s involvement in music organizations encompassed membership on the National Council on the Arts; board positions for the American Symphony Orchestra League, Arts Midwest, and the Afro-American Bicentennial Hall of Fame/Museum; and past chairs of the Jazz Advisory Panel to the Kennedy Center and the jazz/Folk/Ethnic Panel of the NEA. He was president of the International Association for Jazz Education, and later president of the National jazz Service Organization and senior consultant for music programs for the Smithsonian Institution.
Personal life and death
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With John Lewis
- The Golden Striker (Atlantic, 1960)
With George Russell
- Jazz in the Space Age (Decca, 1960)
- George Russell Sextet at the Five Spot (Decca, 1960)
- Stratusphunk (Riverside, 1960)
- George Russell Sextet in K.C. (Decca, 1961)
- Ezz-thetics (Riverside, 1961)
- The Stratus Seekers (Riverside, 1962)
- De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. “African Heritage Symphonic Series Vol. III”. Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR066.
- Indiana University faculty page
- Herzig, Monika. David Baker: A Legacy in Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011, 20-21. Print.
- Johnson, Calvert (2013). “Organ Works by Composers from Africa and the African Diaspora: Bibliography”. American Guild of Organists. Retrieved January 16, 2016.
- Williams, Martin (1961). “Sleevenotes to Ezz-thetics”.
- Baker, David (1988). Jazz Improvisation: A Comprehensive Method for All Musicians. Alfred Publishing. ISBN 0-88284-370-2.
- Harvey, Jay (2010-12-16). “Pianist Monika Herzig works to promote women in jazz”. Indy.com (Indy Star).
- David Baker, jazz teacher and musician, dies at 84
- Indiana University webpage on Professor Baker
- Trombone Page of the World webpage on Professor Baker
- NPR program about Baker’s jazz compositions
- Herzig, Monika. David Baker: A Legacy in Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.