We mourn the passing of David Nathaniel Baker, Jr who died at his home in Bloomington, Indiana on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at the age of 84. David was an extraordinarily accomplished composer, author, conductor, and teacher; and among the most influential voices in contemporary American music over the past five decades. The Keiser-Southern Music family offers our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. We submit this humble memorial as a tribute to and celebration of his life and music.
Born on December 21, 1931 in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Baker grew up in the rich musical tradition of the black community, in the world of church and gospel music, blues and rhythm & blues, and jazz. He trained as a classical musician and composer at Indiana University, where he later became Distinguished Professor of Music and Chairman of the Jazz Department. Baker also had served as conductor and artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. A virtuoso performer on multiple instruments and top in his field in several disciplines, Mr. Baker taught and performed throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Though thoroughly educated in classical music, Baker’s early career began in an era when the professional options for a black man in that field were extremely limited. As for composing, he once said, “there was no reason for me to aspire to write classical music. At that time the handful of black composers who were actually writing classical music were constantly struggling to have their works performed. There were virtually no role models for me to follow, and very limited opportunities to hear the music these composers were creating.” However in 1969, Baker was approached by his friend and colleague, the legendary violinist and pedagogue Josef Gingold, with a request to write a concerto for violin and jazz band. Baker accepted, and following the masterful premiere with the IU Jazz Ensemble, myriad commissions from colleagues and other world-class artists and ensembles would follow thereafter.
David Baker’s style is often described as “thirdstream,” a term commonly used since the late 1950s to describe the synthesis of elements of classical music not only with jazz but also with other folk and popular traditions. At his 2006 acceptance address of Indiana University’s Tracy M. Sonneborn Award, Baker stated, ” It was the philosophical rubric of thirdstream–not only in the narrower view of combining classical music and jazz, but also in the broader interpretation which combined classical music with various ethnic or vernacular musics–that provided me with the means to seek out my own identity as a composer.”
Over the course of his multifaceted career, David received numerous awards, including the National Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame Award, the Indiana Historical Society’s Living Legend Award, the James Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution, the American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Emmy Award for his musical score documentary For Gold and Glory. In 2007 he was honored by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with their Living Jazz Legend Award. As a composer Mr. Baker was commissioned by more than 500 individuals and ensembles, including many world-class performers. He served a number of times on the Pulitzer Prize Music Jury and was Chair of the Jazz Faculty of the Steans Institute for Young Artists at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL. His compositions total more than 2,000 in number, including jazz and symphonic works, chamber music, and ballet and film scores.
CATALOG OF WORKS – VIDEO EXCERPTS
Alto Saxophone Concerto: “Lee Konitz” (1989) 21′
Asax Solo: 126.96.36.199: 188.8.131.52: Timp.Perc(2): Str
David Baker’s concerto for alto saxophone and large orchestra is named after legendary jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who commissioned the work. Recorded by Czech National Symphony, Paul Freeman, conductor; Thomas Walsh, alto saxophone (Albany Records).
Clarinet Sonata (1990) 14′
This transcription of Baker’s Flute Sonata (1989) was performed at UBC Distinguished Artist Series, Canada. Recorded by Jaren Hinckley, clarinet and Vince Humphries, piano.
Life Cycles for Tenor, Horn and Strings (1988) 20′
Recorded by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Paul Freeman, conductor; William Brown, tenor; Zdenek Tylsar, horn. Can be performed as a standalone cycle of 5 songs, or as a companion piece to Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Composed for William Brown; texts by Terence Diggory. A reduction for tenor, horn and piano is also available.
Roots II (1992) 25′
Violin, Cello, Piano
Each of the five movements is a stylized portrait of a musical form from the African-American tradition. Roots II was commissioned and recorded by the Beaux Arts Trio, Philips CD 438-866-2.
Singers of Songs, Weavers of Dreams for Cello and Percussion (1981) 25′
Commissioned by Janos Starker; recorded and edited by Janos Starker, cello and George Gaber, percussion (Laurel Record LR 117). Each movement of this suite pays tribute to a different jazz icon, including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Yancey, Paul Robeson, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Through this Vale of Tears: In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.(1986) 22′
Tenor or Soprano Solo: 2 Violin, Viola, Cello, Piano
Commissioned and recorded twice by tenor William Brown, Through This Vale of Tears is a kind of social commentary on the death of Dr. King. As described by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Mr. Baker’s piece set a variety of texts in a cornucopia of styles, including scat, spiritual, and chorale. Miraculously, this diversity cohered, producing a multi-dimensional work filled with grief, humor and hope.”
Explore David Baker’s catalog of Keiser Classical publications on Hal Leonard’s website.
For additional information on David Baker or his works, write to Keiser Classical.