David N. Baker

No one has been a more consistent friend to jazz, a more exemplary innovator in jazz education or a more astute master of jazz politics than David Nathaniel Baker. And to think he once aspired merely to become — and would have become, but for an accident — a first-rate trombonist.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, he quickly demonstrated his prodigious virtuosity on several instruments, studying with J.J. Johnson, Bob Brookmeyer, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Janos Starker and others. He received his BA and MA from Indiana University, and was launched on a promising career as an instrumentalist and composer, touring with major big bands and making important contributions to classic records by George Russell and John Lewis. After sustaining an injury, he switched his focus to cello, but from the 1970s on devoted most of his time to teaching, composing and writing. As Distinguished Professor of Music and chairman of the Jazz Department at the Indiana University School of Music, as well as conductor and director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, he revolutionized jazz education.

His output includes 2000 jazz and symphonic compositions (500 commissions), 65 recordings, 400 articles and 70 books, including an influential series of monographs that were among the first ever note-by-note analyses of the individual improvisational styles of such artists as Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Kenny Dorham. Through his tireless work on government panels and commissions, including his presidency of the National Jazz Service Organization and his editing of the 1986 Wingspan Conference report New Perspectives in Jazz, Baker has guaranteed jazz’s place at the State Department, the Kennedy Center, the NEA and other seats of power that once ignored jazz.

His prolific efforts as a composer and organizer have earned him numerous prizes, among them an Emmy Award for his PBS score Gold and Glory, a Pulitzer nomination, election to the Down Beat Jazz Education Hall of Fame and to the National Association of Jazz Educators, the NEA American Jazz Masters Award and the Kennedy Center’s Living Jazz Legend Award, as well as several honorary degrees. In 2001, David N. Baker was proclaimed an Indiana Living Legend. The Jazz Journalists’ Association is proud to concur that he has long been a living legend for all of us who love jazz and American music. -- Gary Giddins

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