David Baker, Jr., is a world-renowned composer and master of multiple instruments, including the trombone, cello and piano.
The Distinguished Professor of Music at the Jacobs School of Music is a writer, clinician, pedagogue, chair of the jazz studies department and director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
Growing up in Indianapolis during the 1930s and 40s, Baker immersed himself into music early on in his childhood and young adulthood. Although he came from a non-musical family, it seemed he had something special inside him right from the start.
He went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from IU-Bloomington.
He has taught and performed music throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
He has played and studied with many well-known musicians through the years, including Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson, George Russell, Bobby Brookmeyer, Janos Starker, William Russo, Bernard Heiden, Gunther Schuller and many more.
On April 21, Baker will conduct the music school’s Annual Big Band Extravaganza, along with Part Harbison. He recently sat down with The Bloomington Alternative for a question-and-answer session.
JR: Where did it all start for you as far as your deep interest in music goes?
DB: Well, like any young, black person in the 1930s and 40s, I was surrounded by church, gospel, jazz, R&B and classical music. I’d hear a lot of these great recordings on the radio and at Randy’s Record Shop.
JR: When did your love of specifically jazz music come into play?
DB: That would be when I attended high school and the ascendancy of bebop was taking place. The name of my high school was Crispus Attucks, which happened to be named after the first black person to die in the Revolutionary War.
Crispus Attucks was also known in the jazz world because of all the famous jazz musicians that attended the school, such as J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Spalding, Jimmy Cole, Wes Montgomery and Otis Redd Appleton, just to name a few.
We even had NBA Hall of Famer, Oscar Robertson, go to our school. Crispus Attucks, an all-segregated school, held jazz music as part of its heritage, and I definitely held it dear to me from that point on as well.
JR: How did you get involved with not just playing music, but teaching music?
DB: Long before high school and IU, I knew I would be a music teacher. My 1949 high school yearbook actually listed my future occupation as music teacher, ha ha.
Crispus Attucks provided wonderful models for my background in music, which in turn provided a great model for teaching music as well. However, it was limited for black people in the 1940s and 50s with R&B, church and rock designated as “black” music.
All in all I just wanted to be a good citizen most of all, no matter what I decided to do with my life. That’s what was most important to me.
JR: What do you love the most from teaching and playing music?
DB: The two really mesh together. I may be playing or composing a piece but then be teaching it to other musicians, so everything I do is about teaching. Teaching music and playing music mesh and coincide with each other for me personally.
JR: Summing up all of your teaching and playing, how does it fit into the place you currently call home, Bloomington? What I’m trying to say is, do you enjoy Bloomington as much as you enjoy teaching and playing music?
DB: Bloomington is a great because IU is such a great school, and Bloomington is also a great place to raise a family.
Jimmie Rae can be contacted at .