David Baker: Jazz and Classical Extraordinaire

David Baker (December 21, 1931-March 26, 2016)

Authors: Amirah Anderson and Khailah Bell



David Baker was a jazz and classical composer and musician. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Baker received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music education from Indiana University. Early on, he had aspirations of performing in a symphony orchestra, but racial discrimination at the time prevented him from fulfilling this dream. After an early stint of traveling through the U.S. and Europe to record and perform jazz, Baker was forced to return home. As a result of a car accident, David Baker switched from playing the trombone to the cello and focused his craft on composition. Soon thereafter, Baker founded the jazz studies program at his alma mater, Indiana University, where he served as the department chair for 45 years. Throughout his career, David Baker acquired many titles, from faculty member of the Jacobs School of Music to Director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Baker died at the age of 84 from complications of dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.

Legacy and Contributions
David Baker has contributed immensely to the genre of jazz and classical music writing more than two thousand compositions ranging in style from jazz scores to classical forms. These classical forms include the solo sonata, symphony, choral music, art song, cantata ontario, and chamber music. Baker is known for incorporating elements of jazz with more modern/contemporary techniques of music composition, pop, electronic, and gospel music. Some of his most known works include the cantata Le Chat qui peche (1974), Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra (1975); Singers of Songs/ Weavers of Dreams: Homage to My Friends (1980);Through This Vale of Tears (1968); and Shades of Blue(1993). His music pieces have been recorded by a diverse array of performers such as Dexter Gordon and Janos Starker, the Beaux Arts Trio, the Composer’s String Quartet and the Czech Philharmonic. As a performer, conductor, educator, and composer of over 60 years, Baker has been involved in the creation, production, performance, and education of music in several ways and has left a lasting impact on the genre. His legacy yielded to the publishing of a biography, an annual birthday celebration in his honor at Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University, and several other performances dedicated to honoring him by famous Jazz Orchestra, such as the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

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