Alumni In Action
David Nathaniel Baker Jr., 1931-2016
Baker was born in Indianapolis and graduated from Crispus Attucks High School there before attending Indiana University, earning a Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1953 and a Master of Music Education degree in 1954. He studied with a wide range of master teachers, performers and composers, including J.J. Johnson and Janos Starker. Originally a gifted trombonist, he switched to the cello after sustaining jaw injuries in a car accident.
He was a regular on the thriving Indianapolis jazz scene of the era – especially on its historic Indiana Avenue – with the likes of fellow jazz giants Jimmy Coe, Slide Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Larry Ridley and David Young.
A member of the Jacobs School of Music faculty beginning in 1966, Baker founded the Jazz Studies program and served as its chair from 1968 to 2013. Top in his field in several disciplines, Baker taught and performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. He co-founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and served as its conductor and musical and artistic director from 1990 to 2012, becoming maestro emeritus on Dec. 1, 2012.
Baker was a 1973 Pulitzer Prize nominee and a 1979 Grammy Award nominee, and he was honored three times by DownBeat magazine: as a trombonist, for lifetime achievement and as the third inductee into its Jazz Education Hall of Fame. Baker’s numerous other awards include the American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2000, and the Living Jazz Legend Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007.
As a composer, Baker was commissioned by more than 100 individuals and ensembles, including Josef Gingold, Harvey Phillips and Ruggiero Ricci. His compositions, tallying more than 2,000 in number, include jazz pieces, symphonic works, chamber music and film scores. His prolific body of work includes more than 65 recordings, 70 books and 400 articles.
Many of his students became giants of jazz themselves, including Jamey Aebersold, Jim Beard, Chris Botti, Michael and Randy Brecker, John Clayton, Peter Erskine, Jeff Hamilton, Freddie Hubbard, Robert Hurst and Shawn Pelton.
Baker died in Bloomington, Indiana, on March 26, 2016, at the age of 84.