Night Lights Classic Jazz

The David Baker Songbook

One of the most renowned jazz educators in America joins Night Lights this week as we take a look at his compositional legacy.

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  • Ezz-thetics

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    Photo: CD cover art

    Baker routinely contributed compositions to the albums he appeared on with noted pianist and theorist George Russell in the early 1960s. EZZ-THETICS, which featured jazz icon Eric Dolphy in its lineup, includes one of Baker's most-recorded tunes, "Honesty."

  • Philly Joe Elvin

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    Photo: CD cover art

    Drummer summit meeting: Baker wrote music for a Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones date with an all-star hardbop lineup. The session, he says, ended up being rather chaotic.

  • Basically Baker

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    Photo: CD cover art

    The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra's BASICALLY BAKER features music that Baker wrote for his Indiana-University-based big bands. Downbeat Magazine named it one of the top 100 jazz CDs of the past decade.

  • Baker McRobbie

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    Photo: WFIU

    David Baker with Indiana University president and jazz devotee Michael McRobbie on Joe Bourne's WFIU program "Just You and Me" in 2009.

David Baker is a renowned jazz educator and bandleader who came out of Indianapolis’ great Indiana Avenue scene of the mid-20th century, counting among his friends and colleagues Wes Montgomery, J.J. Johnson, and Freddie Hubbard. His jazz resume is studded with notable accomplishments, associations, and awards. He came up as a standout trombonist and switched to cello after a car accident injured his jaw. His Indianapolis hardbop group of the late 1950s became a leading progressive-jazz ensemble under the leadership of pianist and theorist George Russell. In the 1960s he launched the now-prestigious Indiana University jazz education program. He’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Levels,” and his classical pieces have been extensively recorded.

Baker has also written hundreds of jazz compositions, many of them for his Indiana University-based big bands and smaller ensembles. Steeped in bebop, popular song and the blues, his music has a modernistic quality that inspired George Russell to call it “21st century soul music.” “The David Baker Songbook” features interpretations of that music by Russell, drummers Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones (backed by an all-star hardbop lineup), the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, pianist Jack Wilson, and Baker himself. Baker and bandleader/jazz educator Brent Wallarab also join the program to talk about the character of Baker’s compositions.

More David Baker:

Music Heard On This Episode

Autumn's Dreams
David Baker — Steppin' Out (Liscio Recordings, 1992)
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Autumn's Dreams
David Baker — Steppin' Out (Liscio Recordings, 1992)
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Screamin' Meemies
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra — Basically Baker (GM Recordings, 2007)
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Honesty
George Russell — Ezz-thetics (Riverside, 1961)
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Le Roi
Philly Joe Jones/Elvin Jones — Together (Collectables, 1964)
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Soft Summer Rain
Jack Wilson — Song For My Daughter (Blue Note, 1969)
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An Evening Thought
Sheryl Shay/David Baker — Sophisticated Lady (Laurel Records, 1985)
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IU Swing Machine
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra — Basically Baker (GM, 2007)
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April B
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra — Basically Baker (GM, 2007)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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