A member of the Jacobs School of Music faculty since 1966, David founded the Jazz Studies program and served as its chair from 1968 to 2013. He was distinguished professor of music and Jazz Studies Department chair emeritus.
David Nathaniel Baker Jr. was born on December 21, 1931, in Indianapolis, Ind. He graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis 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 Thomas Beversdorf, Bobby Brookmeyer, Bernard Heiden, J. J. Johnson, George Russell, William Russo, Gunther Schuller, and Janos Starker, among others. Originally a gifted trombonist, he switched to the cello after sustaining jaw injuries in a car accident.
He began his teaching career at Missouri’s Lincoln University in 1955.
David 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. They are all included in the “Jazz Masters of Indiana Avenue” mural on Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis.
He was a member of the Quincy Jones Big Band during its 1960 European tour, beginning a lifelong friendship with the music icon.
Top in his field in several disciplines, David 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 December 1, 2012.
A 1973 Pulitzer Prize nominee, David was nominated for a Grammy Award (1979) and honored three times by DownBeat magazine (as a trombonist, for lifetime achievement, and as the third inductee into its Jazz Education Hall of Fame). He received numerous awards, including the National Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame Award (1981), IU President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (1986), Arts Midwest Jazz Masters Award (1990), Governor’s Arts Award of the State of Indiana (1991), American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (2000), Indiana Historical Society’s Living Legend Award (2001), James Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution (2002), Emmy Award for his musical score for the PBS documentary For Gold and Glory (2003), Living Jazz Legend Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2007), IU President’s Medal for Excellence (2012), Satchmo Award from the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation (2014), Sagamore of the Wabash (2011), City of Bloomington Black History Month Living Legend Award (2015), and five honorary doctorates, including from Oberlin College (2004) and New England Conservatory (2006).
As a composer, David was commissioned by more than 100 individuals and ensembles, including Josef Gingold, Harvey Phillips, Ruggiero Ricci, Janos Starker, Beaux Arts Trio, New York Philharmonic, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Louisville Orchestra, Ohio Chamber Orchestra, Audubon String Quartet, and International Horn Society. His compositions, tallying over 2,000 in number, range from jazz pieces and symphonic works, to chamber music and film scores.
A dedicated music educator as well as composer and performer, David’s involvement in music organizations included membership on the National Council on the Arts; board positions for the American Symphony Orchestra League, Chamber Music America, Arts Midwest, and the Afro-American Bicentennial Hall of Fame/Museum; and past chairmanships of the Jazz Advisory Panel to the Kennedy Center and the Jazz/Folk/Ethnic Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. He was past president and past vice president of the International Association for Jazz Education, past president of the National Jazz Service Organization, and senior consultant for music programs for the Smithsonian Institution. He served six times on the Pulitzer Prize Music Jury.
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, among others.
David’s prolific body of work includes more than 65 recordings, 70 books, and 400 articles.
David is survived by his wife Lida Belt Baker; daughter April (Brad) Ayers; granddaughter Kirsten (Nick) Bartalone; former wife Eugenia Baker; nephews David Michael Crawford (Dawn) and Kim Crawford; great nephews Elijah, Greyson, and Trey Crawford; and great nieces Temeley and Tanzyn Crawford.
Jacobs School of Music