restricted access 2. A Star Is Born

From: David Baker

Indiana University Press colophon
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16 While jazz singer Janet Lawson was on tour in Latvia in the 1990s, she was given a book to read by a friend. It was A Woman in Amber, a memoir about the destruction of Agate Nesaule’s home in Latvia during World War II and her subsequent immigration to Indianapolis. While reminiscing with her mother about washing dishes and working in the cannery in order to support their graduate studies at Indiana University, they mention a busboy named David at LaRue’s Supper Club, who was so crazy about music. During the early 1950s attitudes toward the black and immigrant populations were similar, and Nesaule was expected to be grateful for any job and assumed to have little potential for higher achievements. Despite such humiliating conditions , Nesaule and busboy David excelled in their academic careers, Monik a Her zig 2 A Star Is Born A Star Is Born 17 encouraging each other in the kitchen at LaRue’s in 1950. She recalls, “He had to hear every day about Negroes and natural rhythm, and they laughed that a black man talked about music theory and wanted to be a professor.”1 Bakerconfirmedhisearlydeterminationandthedecisiontobecome a professional musician in high school by exploring every opportunity to learn and perform together with his buddy Slide Hampton, but was most surprised to find out when he was given a copy of Nesaule’s book that even as a young busboy his dedication had been already such an inspiration.2BandleaderDennyDuttonoccasionallyaskedthebusboyat LaRue’stositinwiththebandon“LullabyoftheLeaves,”andafterBaker got off work at midnight, he was a regular at after-hour jam sessions that lasteduntil3:00Am.Classeswouldstartat8:00Am,though,andFrench teacher Dr. Morton-Finney had to ask young David, “Mr. Baker, don’t you ever sleep at home?” whenever he drifted off during class.3 This chapter documents David Baker’s early professional life from high school graduation in 1949 until he became a fulltime faculty member at Indiana University in 1966. His dream of becoming a professional musician came true, but fate had several unexpected and tragic detours in store. Most notable were his developing artistry on the trombone that earned him DownBeat Magazine’s New Star Award in 1962, shared with his friend and fellow trombonist Slide Hampton; as well as the need to start over on a new instrument as a result of an injury to the jaw. A devastating prospect then, it turned out to be a crucial element in the development of one of the leading composers and pedagogues of our time. David acknowledges this fateful turning point himself: I think God works his wonders in mysterious ways because if I had stayed in New York, I probably wouldn’t have turned to teaching and all the other things I do, like composing; but because of that accident, it forced me into areas I would have never considered.4 College Education Baker’s college career started in 1949 in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music (then affiliated with Butler University ), where he spent a year studying mainly baritone horn. Even though 18 Monika Herzig theschoolwasstillsegregated,theconservatoryacceptedacertainnumber of black students. Some of Baker’s colleagues then included Oliver Bell, Jimmy Coe, Trili Stewart, and Reginald DuValle, Jr. David got to play in the concert band on the baritone horn, and practiced all day and still worked as a busboy at LaRue’s. He started taking trombone lessons from Thomas Beversdorf at Indiana University–Bloomington, which turned out to be an important connection after he was expelled from Arthur Jordan Conservatory: They [Jordan Conservatory] had a big jazz band which was really quite good. I never got to play in that band, but I did make contacts and good friends while I was there, even though I was ultimately asked to leave, because I danced with a white girl at the Christmas dance. They let me know they were very unhappy with that. I didn’t have enough sense to take low, so I got kicked out of Butler.5 Luckily one of his previous high school teachers, Dr. Roscoe Polin, also presidentoftheNationalAssociationofNegroMusiciansatthetime,intervened ,andbroughthimtoIndianaUniversity,wherehecontinuedhis studies on trombone with Dr. Beversdorf. Even though David still performed on baritone horn and tenor tuba, he switched to trombone as his primaryinstrumentatthispointandperformedonbasstromboneinthe Indianapolis Philharmonic as well as the Indiana University orchestra. WhenDavidBakerarrivedatIndianaUniversityin1950,thecampus was still completely segregated. Black students were not allowed to live in the dormitories, had separate eating facilities in the student union, couldn’t go to any restaurants, and could not even...


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Subject Headings

  • Baker, David, 1931-.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography. -- Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography. -- Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
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