David Baker, jazz teacher and musician, dies at 84
Madeline Buckley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Back in 1978, Luke Gillespie was in jazz musician and educator David Baker's officer at Indiana University and saw the Miles Davis LP "Kind of Blue" on the turntable. It looked worn and scratched, like it was played over and over, Gillespie said.
“Wow,” Gillespie said to Baker, his teacher. "You have gotten a lot of mileage out of this record.”
Baker's reply, Gillespie said, changed his life.
"Yeah, that's my seventh copy," Baker told him.
Gillespie, a professor in the IU Jacobs School of Music and performer of jazz and classical piano music, surmised that Baker would have had to play the vinyl record hundreds, or even thousands, of times, before the grooves became too worn to allow the needle to stay within the line.
And Baker was on his seventh copy.
It was a moment, Gillespie said, that for him, encapsulates Baker's influence as an educator.
"I thought I had listened a lot, but I had never listened enough to wear out even one record," Gillespie said. "I realized that I hadn't really listened as much as I needed to really absorb the music."
Baker, a renowned jazz performer and composer, died Saturday, colleagues and friends confirmed. He was 84.
Baker was a professor at the IU music school and founder of its Jazz Studies program.
An Indianapolis native, Baker racked up numerous awards during an illustrious musical career that began early in his time as a student at Crispus Attucks High School in the 1940s, when, according to a 2008 IndyStar report, he would "sneak into the smoky clubs of Indiana Avenue to soak up the atmosphere."
At Crispus Attucks, Baker had said he cultivated a love of jazz.
"We went to Attucks at a time that was very exciting. There was a great tradition of jazz already there by then," Baker told IndyStar in 2008. "We had the creme de la creme of mentors — a large music department of maybe four, five teachers. In retrospect, it was seemingly the best of all possible worlds."
Baker was an aspiring trombone player then, but he would grow to be a Grammy-nominated artist with more than 1,000 compositions. He took up the cello after a car accident injured muscles in his face.
Among Baker’s honors are becoming an Indiana Living Legend in 2001, an NEA Jazz Master in 2000, a Grammy nominee in 1979 and Pulitzer Prize nominee in 1972.
He taught and performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, according to Baker's retirement biography, written by Gillespie. He also co-founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Gillespie said.
Baker founded IU's Jazz Studies program after he was hired at the school of music in 1966. He received a bachelor's and master's degree in music education at IU.
"He kind of opened my eyes to a lot of different things," said Rob Dixon, a jazz saxophonist who studied under Baker. "When he said something, you would perk up, when he said, 'Listen to Sonny Rollins; check out Joe Henderson.'"
Brent Wallarab, a professor at IU's music school and a trombone player, said Baker was an educator who had the ability to see talents in students before they saw it themselves.
"He always had that intuitive sense," said Wallarab, who studied under Baker first in 1987 and continued a long professional relationship with him. "From the very beginning, he seemed to see things in me as a young musician that I hadn't even recognized. He was able to provide opportunities that were kind of designed to help me see my potential."
Baker is survived by his wife, Lida; daughter April; son-in-law Brad; April’s mother, Jeanne; his granddaughter, Kirsten, and her husband, Nick; his nephew, David Michael; and sons Greyson and Elijah, Gillespie wrote in the biography.
IndyStar reporter Dave Lindquist contributed to this story. Call IndyStar reporter Madeline Buckley at (317) 444-6083. Follow her on Twitter: @Mabuckley88.