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New Book Chronicles the Life and Times of NEA Jazz Master David Baker

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David N. Baker BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—David Baker has received just about every honor imaginable in his 60-year career as a jazz musician and educator. The Distinguished Professor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music has recorded extensively, been acclaimed for his playing, writing and arranging, and done more than just about anyone to establish and shape college-level teaching of jazz.

He has been named a national Living Jazz Legend, an Indiana Living Legend and a NEA Jazz Master. And he is the author of countless books on jazz pedagogy, theory, improvisation and history.

Monika Herzig (left) with friend, mentor and book subject David Baker Print-Quality Photo But never has he been the subject of a book—until now. David Baker: A Legacy in Music, published by Indiana University Press and scheduled for release next week, celebrates Baker's life and his work as a musician, composer, author, arts advocate and, especially, teacher and educator.

Monika Herzig, the book's primary author and editor, is a professional jazz pianist and a lecturer in the Arts Management Program in IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. When she learned that no one had produced a book about Baker, her mentor and friend, she decided to do the job herself.

“I owe him so much," she said. “This is a very special thing to be able to do."

The release of the book and a book launch concert and signing on Nov. 6 anticipate Baker's upcoming 80th birthday. An official Jacobs School of Music birthday celebration will take place Jan. 21, 2012. Information will be posted at http://blogs.music.indiana.edu/bakercelebration/.

While it includes rich details about Baker's life, David Baker: A Legacy in Music isn't a biography but a tribute focusing on Baker's work and career. It is accompanied by a full-length CD and includes a foreword by Quincy Jones and photographs from throughout Baker's career, including pictures with music legends J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Wes Montgomery and Josef Gingold.

Along with Herzig, seven other colleagues and former students contribute chapters on Baker's early years in Indianapolis, his rise as a New York trombone star with the George Russell Sextet and other groups, his move from jazz clubs to the academy, his rigorous approach to teaching, the music he has produced with the Bloomington-based 21st Century Bebop Band and as leader of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and his accomplishments as a composer and arts advocate.

Contributors include Jacobs School of Music faculty members Lissa May, David Ward-Steinmann and Brent Wallarab; University of Pittsburgh Director of Jazz Studies Nathan Davis; Smithsonian Institution Curator of American Music John Edward Hasse; promoter and author Willard Jenkins; and Thelonious Monk Institute Director of Education JB Dyas. The project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For his part, Baker says he is profoundly grateful for the appreciation shown by the project, and thankful that Herzig is the one who took it on. “She knows the music, she knows how to play the music, and she's a composer and a recording artist," he said. “I can't think of anyone else I could have worked with on this."

He is also grateful for his career, which he attributes to hard work rather than innate talent. And he is philosophical about the turns that it took. Complications from injuries suffered in a serious traffic accident forced Baker to stop playing trombone in the 1960s. He took up the cello, became proficient on the new and difficult instrument and redoubled his dedication to teaching, composition and arranging as a member of IU music faculty.

“If it hadn't been for the accident, I'm not sure I would have ever become a teacher," he said. “When one door closes, another door opens."

Baker continues to work hard, chairing the Jazz Studies Department, directing a student jazz ensemble and teaching current classes on jazz history, bebop and improvisation. Despite having taught for decades, he prepares anew for classes and expects to learn as he teaches.

“It's a constant learning process," he said. “I can't imagine there's any reason to be an educator if you're going to stand still."

Related events

Also in connection with Baker's birthday, WFIU radio's “Night Lights" program will broadcast a two-part special Dec. 10 and 17 drawing on interviews for the book, host David Brent Johnson's interviews with Baker and composer-music historian Gunther Schuller and featuring Baker's jazz and “Third Stream" music. It will be archived at http:// indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights.

On Dec. 21, there will be a formal dinner and concert at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis, featuring the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra playing Baker's original music. VIP tickets are $150 and include dinner, drinks and a newly re-issued CD of the Buselli-Wallarab orchestra playing Baker's music.

An IU Press audio podcast of an interview with Baker and Herzig can be heard at http://ht.ly/6Xu5j. Copies of David Baker: A Legacy in Music may be purchased online from IU Press. To speak with Herzig, contact Steve Hinnefeld at University Communications, 812-856-3488 or slhinnef@iu.edu.


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This story appears courtesy of The Independent Ear by Willard Jenkins.
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