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ghost of miles

David Baker R.I.P.

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Very sorry to report that jazz educator, composer, and trombonist-cellist David Baker has passed away at the age of 84.  He was one of the most generous spirits I've ever encountered.  More to follow, but here's the WFIU report:

Award-winning composer David Baker dies at 84

and a 2010 Night Lights show in which David and I discussed and played recordings of his music:

The David Baker Songbook

 

Edited by ghost of miles

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Sorry to read this. I enjoyed his playing with George Russell's groups in the early 60's, and I know he touched a lot of lives with his later teaching career.

Thanks, Mr. Baker.

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I wrote up a brief remembrance on Facebook that I thought I'd share here:

IU Swing Machine

So saddened to hear of David Baker's passing today at age 84 in Bloomington, Indiana, where he had been on faculty at Indiana University since 1966. David, of course, was a giant of jazz education, one of a handful of guys who literally invented the field. He also played the hell out of the trombone as a young man, had impeccable credentials (George Russell, the Naptown ties to Freddie, Wes, Slide), was a versatile composer across many idioms and a tireless advocate for the music, from classrooms to the halls of political power in Washington. In 2003 he was resident composer of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in metro Detroit and some of his "classical" scores were a surprising revelation -- strong, fresh, with or without overt jazz references.

Like all jazz kids who grow up in Bloomington, I saw David as part God and part hip uncle. I still clearly remember those times he worked with our high school band, and I remember Dave Liebman telling me in 1981 how much he had learned from David and that he was the kind of guy you should hang around as much as possible because he had a mind like a steel trap and was able to share so much information in such a clear way.

David was, in fact, the first musician I ever interviewed. I was 15 and in an advanced English class where we pursued projects and got paired with mentors in the community. I was interested in music criticism and jazz so the teacher hooked me up with Michael Bourne at WFIU. Part of the project was writing an article about David and I lugged a bulky tape recorder over to his office and we spoke for about 45 minutes. I asked him at one point about where he stood back in the day relative to the avant-garde of the '60s and, aping something I had read on the back of album, I framed the question in terms of two camps, for and against ,and nothing in between. David (gently) corrected me in his answer, pointing out how lots of musicians drew from everything. He talked about how traditional and progressive elements sat side-by-side in the music of Russell, Coltrane and others and how many young players like himself didn't feel a need to choose one over the other. The lesson I took away, even at 15, was that history is far more complex than the reductive way it's often written.

Another time, David's small group was the guest at a festival -- can't remember if was at Bloomington North or South -- and they did one piece that was basically dada theater. The cats were making funny noises on their instruments, the drummer was sitting on the ground literally rolling a snare drum back and forth and David was speaking into his cello: "You in there, Bubba?!" I remember thinking: Are you really allowed to do that? Some of the adults in the room thought it was awful. I remember thinking it was hilarious and was surprised that some people didn't get the joke: Another lesson.

As I got older, my ideas about jazz education grew more nuanced and I began see not only the benefits to David's approach but also some of the downside, though that is not meant in any way to denigrate his legacy. This was a major American musician and educator. Period. And never underestimate the battles he had to fight as an African-American musician in the '60s and early 70s to bring jazz into the academy. We live in a different, better world, folks, and David is one of the guys who made it so.

When I was in graduate school in journalism at IU in 1987, I took his upper level bebop history class so I could have the experience of being in class with him. It was half lecture and half playing -- a holistic approach that I really admired. He was funny, smart, perspicacious, generous. He'd talk about, say, Tadd Dameron in the first hour and then we'd play Dameron's music in the second. I learned a lot, and like so many, I have a gaggle of his method books on my shelves.

I wasn't close with David, but I spoke to him frequently through the years for this and that. We shared a unique bond in that he and his wife live in the first house that my parents had built in Bloomington and the house I lived in the first few months of my life. A friend was house-sitting for him once when I was in grad school and one day I went with her to water the plants, etc. I went down in the basement where he had all his records and scores and the like, and I loved that the vibe was so connected to my own aesthetic.

The world is a little less hip today with David gone. What a life he led and what a legacy to have touched so many thousands of students and cleared the forest through which so many walk today.

Edited by Mark Stryker

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That's beautiful, Mark--a tribute worthy of the man.  Thank you.

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Last year, I stumbled upon the album Basically Baker, by the Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.  The majority of the orchestra was comprised of former Baker students (including co-leader Wallarab) and they put a lot of care into performing Baker's compositions, most of which Baker also arranged.  Having only previously known Baker from his reputation as an educator ( my jazz-appreciation professor even  studied under him), his compositions and arrangements were a revelation.  I'd love to hear more of his work, and I highly recommend Basically Baker.

Thank you for the music and your contributions as an educator, Mr. Baker, and rest in peace.

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Hey Justin, that is indeed an excellent CD, if unfortunately a bit hard to find these days; I play something off it several times a year on the Thursday Indiana-jazz edition of my show, it seems.  DownBeat put it on their "Best 100 Jazz CDs of the Century So Far" list a few years ago.

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Sad news. Baker is great on those George Russell Sextet dates and is a big reason why they were so good. Glad he went on to have a long, impactful career in music. 

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My exposure to David Baker was limited, but in all cases meaningful.

  1. Our (overly) ambitious high school band director bought those octet(?) charts he published through Down Beat. Don't ask me why. Needless to say, we did not, at the time, have the skills to figure out what the hell was going on, much less how to do it. But the notion of there being such things made a lasting impression.
  2. Baker's solo transcriptions in Down Beat, all of them in that unique font he used. Playing through them without know how the record actually sounded was a trip, especially when I finally did get to hear the records! Armstrong, Monk, Pharoah, Roswell, and more.
  3. Same thing for Bakers book of trombone styles and analysis.
  4. Finally, spent a week at an Aebersold clinic where both him and Slide Hampton (and Dave Liebman and Rufus Reid) were on staff...endlessly fascinating answers to whatever questions you asked, as well as some you'd not yet thought to ask, musical, business, cultural, whatever, True education.

I still recall the first time I played for him, he stopped me and said, "AH! A Lester Young guy, you like to take the express, not the local, right?" This differentiation in preferred methods of travel made so much more sense to me than did "horizontal" vs. "vertical". He seemed to dig it, and that was so encouraging. 

Didn't think too much of his cello playing then (January of 1980, I think it was), but otherwise, geez, what a spirit, one of indomitable generosity, delivered with full frontal facts and opinion, and no, you never had to guess which was which.

RIP, and much thanks.

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6 hours ago, JSngry said:

"AH! A Lester Young guy, you like to take the express, not the local, right?"

Very sage comment. Q

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Learned of him from the George Russell recordings, as did most of us.

Met him when we moved to Bloomington in '68 and had numerous encounters over the years, My friend Charles Tyler kept pulling my shirt tail in David's direction.

Nice man with important work. No better epitaph in my world. Thanks.

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dbaker1_zpsi0fpw6pb.jpg

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Anybody ever hear that Jazz At Canterbury tape?

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22 hours ago, Chuck Nessa said:

Learned of him from the George Russell recordings, as did most of us.

Different time/place/world/etc, obviously, but I never heard him until 1975, when the Milestone 2-fer of the Russell selections was released! It was almost a novelty, hearing "David Baker" actually play jazz, all the people I was hanging with only knew of his through his educational output.

Believe me, though, things like this mattered in that they penetrated a subset of humanity that would otherwise either not known at all or else would have reflexively recoiled in horror and never reconsidered. Can't win 'em all, obviously, but still, it was there.

dbaker8_zpsykbf5d11.jpg

dbaker9_zpspbo6okws.jpg

 

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4 hours ago, JSngry said:

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Thanks so much for posting this DownBeat article, Jim.  Austin Caswell was a very good friend of David's, and one of Austin's daughters was on my show this afternoon to talk about David.  (Rachel Caswell, an excellent jazz singer; her sister, Sara Caswell, is an outstanding jazz violinist.  They both studied with David when they were children.)  She's been trying to track down this article, so I forwarded her the scans you've posted here... much appreciation.

 

 

 

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Wow, cool. Glad to hear that family was served.

Also hope that all these Baker things are being archived someplace besides ppeople's closets...probably hard to imagine now, but those transcriptions and the commentaries that accompanied them were a former of education that some us would have never gotten otherwise in our time/place.

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There's Facebook tribute page ("Remembering David Baker") that's been created by his former students where people are sharing stories and memories. This was recently posted and it relates to these Down Beat transcriptions.

--------

Has anybody told the Filles de Kilimanjaro story? Here's the version I know:

David transcribed Miles Davis's solo from "Filles de Kilimanjaro", and the solo was published in Downbeat Magazine. Soon after, David received a late night phone call from Miles.

[in Miles rasp]: "Why you put my sh*t in Downbeat?!"...
David: "Well Miles, they paid me!"
[Miles hangs up.]
[A few seconds later, Miles calls back.]
"That's some hip sh*t, ain't it."

 

------

Quote: "AH! A Lester Young guy, you like to take the express, not the local, right?"

-- That's David's concise interpretation of George Russell's "boat-going-down-the-river" metaphor, which may be in the text of the Lydian Chromatic Concept but which I heard from David himself as he was explaining some of Russell's  ideas to me in an interview some 13 years ago. Here's an interview that Russell did with Jason Gross that I found on the website Perfect Sound Forever:


PSF: If you were to describe your theory to a layman, what would say about it?

GR: You can think of it as this- you're going down the river in a local steamboat. The towns along that river (are) chords. The boat would stop at each chord. The captain would have some melody that caused the genre of the chord to be heard as such. Continuing down the river, that's the way the melody would be received. Each town has its own sound. The captain, let's call him... John Coltrane. (laughs) If you think of his famous solo on "Giant Steps." He's stopping at every chord/town along that river. (He's) playing a melody that centers the listener right on that chord/town. Then to the next one. That's the way he gets down the river. Lester Young got down the river in a faster, express boat. It did not stop at each chord/town. It stopped only at the larger cities. He had to depend more on time. Forward movement, time itself to make that journey. But he would sound a melody for the listener, over a number of chord towns that center on the... might call it the final, to which those chord towns resolve.

PSF: So it's a destination then?

GR: Yes, that's right. Immediately, he's sending a message that these four/five chord/towns are final and he goes down the river, stopping at those larger cities.

PSF: After you work and published this theory, did you see your work as a break from the tradition of bebop?

GR: It doesn't fight anything. What I was looking for is how melody behaves. At first, you might say how it behaves in a jazz sense. Lester Young didn't mind choosing a final chord, a larger chord town in which the smaller towns resolves. Coleman Hawkins represented another school- he was an originator of what I'd call vertical playing. He and Lester were each indicating tonal center. With one, the river was the tonal center, the other was a final chord, a major and minor one.

PSF: So you see the theory as a natural progression of what was happening then?

GR: Well, what was happening, the horizontal way of playing really came out of slavery. Blacks were denied musical instruments. It comes out of church music, which is so prominent these days in commercials. It kind of became a hierarchy and sort of a duel with the vertical way of playing, performed mostly by Coleman Hawkins. The vertical players had a term for the horizontal players- they called it 'shucking.' (laughs) They weren't sounded the genre of each small town along the river. They were only sounding the genre to which those chords ultimately resolved. By that, they automatically had to be playing a melody that would indicate that chord-town over the vertical melodies. So you have the horizontal players who the vertical players said that they didn't go to school but that wasn't true. Lester Young really had both sides down and he used it to show occasionally that he had the chords down.

They were also the supra-roles for certain players and these were people who reached beyond the horizontal and vertical, combined them and actually created what I call 'secondary chords,' like Ornette. He floats down the river. He's just out there! (laughs) He had a huge influence on jazz. Bebop is basically based on all kinds of show tunes. "What Is This Thing Called Love" is actually a horizontal melody. Bebop was a very vertical music for a number of reasons, some not having to do with music.

After World War II, black soldiers came back to find the same old thing, nothing had changed for them. Black intellectuals, which I'm not, didn't go too far up in the educational field. I made the choice to drop school and go it on my own. People kid intellectual people all the time so I laugh when I get called that.

Ornette was the first one to change melody, change rhythm, change form and brought all of that with him and used it in music. In concept terms, he would be a supra-player

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Did David Baker tour Europe in March 1961 with Quincy Jones' big band?

The recent "Live in Ludwigshafen 1961" disc on SWR/Jazzhaus gives no personnel listing but has Q introduce the band, and where Melba Liston would be expected, he mentiones David Baker. That and Sixten Erikssen (instead of Rolf Ericsson) are the two differences from the line-up given for the EmArcy Zurich recording, just a few days prior. Did they really change musicians mid tour? Changing swedish trumpet players, maybe, but american 'bonists?

Here's the cover of the disc I'm talking about:

91kEb2cyJgL._SL500_.jpg

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6 hours ago, JSngry said:

Don't know how much of it has been recorded for commercial consumption, but here's a recording that includes one of Baker's "classical" compositions.

https://www.amazon.com/Anderson-Baker-Fox-Wilson-Chamber/dp/B0000030HD

Anybody know of any more?

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If you're asking how much of David's "classical" and "third stream" compositions were recorded, the answer is a LOT. YouTube is a good way to sample. Can be hit and miss -- even within the same pieces -- but some good stuff in there. Might explore cello sonata to start.

Discography here: http://indianapublicmedia.org/static/pdf/baker-discography.pdf

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Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for that list.

I see Albany on there more than once. That label....

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