restricted access 3. New Beginnings

From: David Baker

Indiana University Press colophon
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46 With a tragic revelation at the height of Baker’s career as a jazz trombonist and a young generation fighting for peace and civil rights, the 1960s started with fateful changes for America’s social environment as well as for David Baker’s career. The status of jazz as an art form and its inclusion in academia experienced a particularly remarkable surge during this period. A change of status for jazz cameoriginallyfromabroadwhen many jazz performers moved to Paris and other European cities after World War I to escape the prejudice and discrimination they experienced in their home country. In fact, saxophonist and educator Nathan Davis, director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, had found a new home in Paris prior to returning to Pittsburgh on the recommendation of David Baker: Monik a Her zig and Nathan Dav is 3 New Beginnings New Beginnings 47 He [Robert Snow, chair of the Pittsburgh music department] contacted David Baker, and David Baker said, “I know a guy, you know, if you could get him to come back, but he’s never gonna come back, ’cause he’s said it in interviews and magazines. . . .” I was kinda, you know, I was working as a jazz musician, you know, I had a little rep, so I was doing fine, and I had done a lot of interviews, and I had always said that I wasn’t gonna come back.1 Even though jazz is often referred to as “America’s Classical Music” as its African roots evolved as a result of the uniquely American melting pot, its acceptance as a subject for education was slow, because its chief practitioners – especially during its first half century – were AfroAmerican innovators. In its infancy, jazz was blamed for the outrageous behavior and deteriorating morals of America’s youth due to early associationswithpureentertainment ,sensualbehavior,andpoverty.TheNational Music Chairman of the Federation of Women’s Clubs expressed then-current feelings about jazz in 1921 when she called it barbaric and claimed “it has a demoralizing effect upon the human brain [that] has been demonstrated by many scientists.”2 As a result of the civil rights movement and an increased interest in black traditions during the 1960s, college-level jazz instruction experienced a surge in popularity. DownBeat Magazine’s “Guide to College Jazz Programs 1965–1969” reported an increase from 29 to 165 colleges offering jazz courses. All the while, the acceptance of jazz in academia was an uphill battle. This chapter documents Baker’s pioneering work in jazz education during the 1960s, and culminates with Nathan Davis’s piece on effective jazz education. Baker was outspoken about the ambivalence toward jazz studies as a component of the traditional music curriculum during this time. His knowledge of jazz as well as classical music styles, his pedagogical vision and wealth of materials, and most of all his willingness to bring factions together have played a major role in making America’s “classical music” a legitimate course of study. In a 1973 article for Black World, he pinpointed the racial dilemma for the reluctant acceptance of jazz: First, jazz is a Black music. The Black man gave this music – the language, the vocabulary, the essence – to the world, and every advancement and major innovation of this music has come from him. . . . Because jazz had its origins in a tradition outside the perimeters of Western art music, its lack of acceptance was virtually assured.3 48 Monika Herzig and Nathan Davis R einvention At the height of his career as a performer, Baker had to deal with the consequences of a tragic injury sustained in a car accident that required him to give up playing the trombone and effectively reinvent his musical career. On the drive back to Indianapolis with drummer Ray Churchman after their last night with Fred Dale’s group at Lake Hamilton Resort in Hamilton, Indiana, in summer 1953, Baker was asleep in the front seat. The impact of a head-on collision with another vehicle ejected him through the windshield into a cornfield, as seat belts were not a common security measure at the time. Baker suffered life-threatening injuries, including a partially severed left arm, and awoke after a week-long coma in a hospital in Huntington, Indiana. Although he recovered the use of hisarm,hebegan havingproblems withspeechand embouchureseveral years later. Doctors informed him that he had been playing trombone with a dislocated jaw for seven years, and that the injured side had atrophied as the...


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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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