Indiana University is mourning the death of one of its longtime professors and a major figure in jazz music. David Baker, distinguished professor of music and Jazz Studies Department chair emeritus, died over the weekend. He was 84.
Baker joined the IU Jacobs School of Music in 1966 and founded its Jazz Studies program, which he chaired from 1968 to 2013. Baker was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1973, a Grammy Award in 1979 and won an Emmy Award in 2003 for his musical score for the PBS documentary "For Gold and Glory."
"David Baker was one of the truly great figures in the history of jazz," said IU President Michael McRobbie. "He was deeply respected and extensively admired as a charismatic educator, innovative and virtuosic performer, prolific composer of depth and subtlety, and scholar of enormous range. While David would likely have demurred from these descriptions — being a gentle, generous, self-effacing and modest man — and would have insisted that only the likes of Davis, Coltrane, Coleman, Russell, Armstrong, Young, Parker, Rollins, Gillespie and perhaps one or two others meet the criteria as major figures in jazz, it was widely agreed that David himself was such a figure — one who was important on his instrument, one who had transcended his era, one who had transformed improvisation and composition, and one who influenced all who followed. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences go out to his wife, Lida, herself a distinguished musician, and other members of his family. He was truly an Indiana University treasure."
Baker was an Indianapolis native and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at IU. Among his many musical accomplishments, Baker was a member of the Quincy Jones Big Band in 1960, co-founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and as a composer, was commissioned by over 100 individuals and ensembles, according to the university.
"It is almost impossible to comprehend the scope of David’s work and impact as a performer, teacher, composer, band leader and arts advocate," said Tom Walsh, chair of the Jacobs Jazz Studies Department. "Over the last 50 years, David Baker inspired thousands of music students, educators and musicians. His influence permeates the teaching of jazz music around the globe. David was a brilliant person who was a joy to be around. His humor, his care for people and his great desire to share his knowledge and experience made him a magnet. The encouragement he gave his students gave them the feeling that they could go into the world and do great things. And they did!"
Baker received numerous awards throughout his life, including being the third inductee into the Jazz Education Hall of Fame and receiving the IU President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.
IU has set up a blog for people to leave remembrances of David Baker.