Farewell David Baker
Remembering Our Friend
As we look back near the anniversary of the passing of David Baker, we thought it fitting to publish Jamey’s farewell to Mr. Baker. We remember him from his years of commitment to Jazz Education and he was a staple at the Summer Jazz Workshops. Most importantly, he was a friend and eternal member of our jazz family.
David Baker was such an outstanding musician, band leader and composer it took me a year or two to get up the courage to ask him for a lesson. And what a lesson it was. It was the beginning of my real jazz education.
I recall him accompanying me on piano while I played I Remember April in his living room on Burdsall Parkway in Indianapolis. After we played for a few minutes he stopped me and said I was playing pure minor instead of Dorian minor in bars 5,6,7 and 8. He told me to raise the 6th and I had no idea what he was talking about. He quickly got me straighten out on that wrong note and it was no looking back. I didn’t even know what questions to ask but his ears were so good and his demeanor so friendly that I couldn’t help but learn from him. I was amazed he played piano and bass in addition to his main instrument at the time, trombone. And then he took up cello!
He eventually asked me to play some jobs with him and that was a real treat. I learned so much, and the way he approached the music was always professional. At the time, he had a big band and they would occasionally play at Indiana University for a dance or concert. That’s where I first heard him and thus became aware of his writing abilities. I thought his band sounded like Dizzy Gillespie’s that I’d heard on LPs. Wow! This guy is the real thing and I’m getting to study with him. He wrote for various musical combinations but his jazz tunes were what I loved most.
Having worked and studied with George Russel, David would try harmonic and melodic things out on myself and others like Mike and Randy Brecker when we’d take a lesson from him. David was always searching while playing his instrument and while he was teaching. Seemed like his mind never stopped and this impressed me very much. And to this day, I seem to do this myself. I don’t think you can wear out your mind and this I learned from David. His ears were sharp, too!
We were constantly exchanging ideas about scales, chords and harmony in general. When ‘Jazz Improvisation,’ his first book came out, I began offering it along with the play-a-longs through my little classified Down Beat ads. That book helped get the jazz ed movement going. He had so much knowledge and loved sharing it. David was one of the very first jazz educators.
Our jazz combo played various school programs throughout the sixties with David on cello. That cello reverberated off the gym walls in schools all over southern Indiana and probably made some kids think about playing cello instead of sax or trumpet! I suspect many of those kids had never heard jazz let alone see a live black man playing cello in THEIR school gym or auditorium. David helped break some barriers in those early jazz ed days.
David was a mainstay at my Summer Jazz Workshops for over 45 years. He always taught the highest combo and the advanced theory class. His students loved him and his way of teaching was so infectious. He would come to his 8:30am theory class and stay all day working with the students who came from around the world to receive his knowledge and encouragement.
We miss him dearly. David was an inspiration to thousands and his memory lives on forever in jazz.