Continuing with this week’s open thread topic… today I will highlight David Baker.
David Nathaniel Baker Jr. (born December 21, 1931 in Indianapolis, Indiana) is an American symphonic jazz composer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Baker attended Crispus Attucks High School. He was educated at Indiana University, receiving both his Undergraduate and Masters in Music Education from that institution.
He 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 brilliantly 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. This 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.
As an educator he has helped make Indiana a highly regarded destination for students of music. 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. A 1973 Pulitzer Prize nominee, Mr. Baker has been nominated for a Grammy Award (1979), honored three times by Down Beat magazine (as a trombonist, for lifetime achievement, and most recently  as the third inductee to their jazz Education Hall of Fame), and has 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). His 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 has been 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, 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 has recently received a lot of 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.
A dedicated music educator as well as composer and performer, Mr. Baker’s involvement in music organizations has 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 is a past president of the International Association of jazz Educators, and is currently president of the National jazz Service Organization and senior consultant for music programs for the Smithsonian Institution. He has more than 65 recordings, 70 books, and 400 articles to his credit.
Pianist Monika Herzig of Indiana University wrote a book about David Baker. David Baker: A Legacy in Music was published in 2011 by Indiana University Press.