Tom Baker Dies at 49

Tom Baker, a multi-instrumentalist who was one of the leading lights on the Australian jazz scene, passed away while on tour on Oct. 23 at a hospital in Breda, Holland, after a heart attack. He was 49.

Baker was born Sept. 14, 1952 in Oakland, and grew up there, graduating from Escalon High School in 1969 and continuing musical studies at Modesto Junior College and the University of the Pacific. In early childhood, he played piano, but moved on to trumpet in high school, and put in some work on the tuba in college.

When Baker’s family moved to Australia in 1971, he became enamored of the music scene he found there; when Baker’s family moved back to the Modesto, Calif., area, he stayed in Sydney, working as a backup player for local artists. He also played both the trumpet and tuba in bands.

In 1975, Baker founded his own San Francisco Jazz Band, which was widely acclaimed as the finest band in Australia and one of the finest West Coast jazz bands in the world. The group played festivals around Australia and the world.

Baker also developed skills on numerous other instruments during this period, including the saxophone, clarinet, string bass and piano accordion. But the trombone, the instrument he came to last, eventually became his favorite.

After Baker became prominent, he spent much of his time in the U.S. and Europe, working with musicians including Doc Cheatham, Cab Calloway, Jay McShann and Scott Hamilton. His recordings and performances met with critical success abroad, but he remained rooted in Australia. After his death, Australian jazzman David Seidel told Web site theage.com.au, “He headlined at virtually every jazz festival in Australia… He was kind of a legendary figure. He could come in and play with anybody at any time. Wherever he played he was welcomed because he was such a brilliant musician and so well-liked.”