BY DAVID BRENT JOHNSON
David Baker, the educator, composer, and performer who heads Indiana University’s jazz studies program and whom many consider the “Dean of Jazz” in American music education, turned 80 in December 2011, and several tributes were planned to mark the milestone.
IU Press published David Baker: A Legacy in Music, a biographical and musical study of Baker’s life and career, written by jazz pianist and educator Monika Herzig with contributions from several of Baker’s colleagues. The nonprofit organization Jazz From Bloomington hosted a book release party at KRC Catering. Herzig signed books and IU jazz faculty member Brent Wallarab directed a performance of the IU Jazz Ensemble. Owl Studios threw a birthday bash for Baker at Indianapolis’ Columbia Club, featuring a Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra big-band concert of Baker’s music. Finally, the IU Jacobs School of Music held a special birthday celebration for Baker at the Musical Arts Center.
“Those of us who studied with him benefitted enormously from his knowledge, his wisdom, and his wit,” says saxophonist and IU jazz faculty member Thomas Walsh. “His legacy in terms of his teaching and his enormous output of books and compositions is fairly well documented. Beyond that, though, the thing that stands out to me is the kindness and never-ending encouragement that he has offered to so many people. And in the Jacobs School of Music, David has been a unique force bridging the gap between classical and jazz music. When you consider that there was a time when you could be kicked out of a practice room for practicing jazz, you can see that David was on the front line of establishing jazz as an accepted music in the university.”
What does David Baker himself think about this milestone? “I’m just happy to be one of the ones who’s taken an active role in making sure that America’s music is represented in all of the colleges and educational institutions across the United States. Teaching is a central part of everything I do, as a player, as a writer, as a bandleader.… It’s the only thing I wouldn’t give up voluntarily. Much of what’s meaningful in life comes from doing what you’re passionate about, and there’s nothing I feel more passionate about than teaching.”