David Baker: A Legacy in Music (Indiana University Press) is a comprehensive look at a composer and jazz educator whose disciples include such prominent names as Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Botti and many others.
In addition to the biographical focus on Baker-who serves as the conductor and artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra-the book also offers up a great deal of analysis of Baker’s music and teaching methods. The writing is detail-oriented due to the technical nature of the subject matter; and therefore certain chapters are not aimed at the casual reader. Several former students (Nathan Davis, J.B. Dyas, Brent Wallarab) have chapters and speak to Baker’s mentoring, pedagogy and compositional techniques.
Baker’s upbringing in Indianapolis was unique; he had a close association with two fellow Indiana natives, the trombonists J.J. Johnson and Slide Hampton. Herzig details the horrific car accident in 1953 that eventually ended Baker’s own career as a trombonist (he suffered numerous jaw and facial surgical treatments for nearly a decade). Ironically, he was informed of winning the 1962 Down Beat Magazine New Star award the same day his doctor had effectively told Baker his trombone playing career was finished. In the wake of the accident, Baker took up the cello and became one of the most formidable jazz composers and pedagogues of our time; he eventually gained an appointment as music professor at his alma mater, Indiana University.
An included CD of Baker’s music contains tracks of his playing and writing dating back to jam sessions in Indianapolis, the time he spent with pianist George Russell’s sextet. Included are cuts of Indiana University’s jazz ensemble and former Baker students, whose work he treats with the same amount of respect and devotion that he gives to the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and his own 21st Century Bebop Band. Baker’s many achievements are outlined in tables, footnotes and appendices to exacting detail.
Each chapter and contributor to the book is effusive in praise of Baker’s personal touch. The reader is reminded that Baker is humble, funny, self-effacing, passionate and of great conviction. It may seem a hagiography at times but Herzig’s book serves to inspire.