New ‘Basically Baker’ recording project will celebrate jazz legend, fund scholarships

David Baker left an enormous legacy in jazz.

The performer, composer and distinguished professor who founded the jazz studies program at Indiana University died in March at the age of 84.

Now, a new recording of Baker’s big band music will add to his rich legacy, thanks to the efforts of fellow musicians, friends and his widow, Lida.

“Basically Baker Volume 2” will be recorded later this month by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra as a celebration of Baker’s life and music.

David Baker

“Basically Baker Volume 2” is devoted to the big band compositions of jazz giant David Baker (1931-2016). Photo by Kendall Reeves Spectrum Studios

“This project represents the passion and loyalty of a musical family that David headed for decades,” said Brent Wallarab, the orchestra’s co-founder and an associate professor of jazz studies in IU’s Jacobs School of Music. “To those of us involved, his influence and mentorship cannot be overestimated and we are honored to play a part in honoring his legacy as a composer and educator.”

Wallarab said that he was first approached by David and Lida Baker more than 10 years ago.

Yesterday, during a radio appearance on WFIU with David Brent Johnson, Wallarab said: “With all of the great recordings that David has, most of them are his classical pieces… His big band music has never been recorded and released as a professional, actual, legitimate jazz release.”

The “Basically Baker Volume 2” collection is scheduled for release in September by Patois Records, which also has IU ties. Jacobs School professor of practice Wayne Wallace — a Grammy-nominated arranger, composer and performer — is head of the label.

All proceeds from the sale of “Basically Baker Volume 2” will go directly to the David N. Baker Scholarship Fund, which assists students entering the jazz studies program in the Jacobs School.

Big band sounds

The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra was founded by Mark Buselli and Wallarab. Both studied with Baker during their graduate studies at IU. Wallarab is now an associate professor of jazz studies at the Jacob School and Buselli is director of jazz studies at Ball State University.

“Mark and Brent are exceptional composers and arrangers,” said Monika Herzig, a jazz pianist who teaches arts administration in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She said she has known both of the band leaders since her student days at IU.


Brent Wallarab, pictured, founded the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra with fellow IU alum Mark Buselli.

The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra is a 17-piece outfit featuring some of the best jazz musicians in the Midwest, with a sound that can be described as hard bop with sophisticated, classical elements.

The orchestra’s new project continues the tradition of “Basically Baker,” their collection of Baker’s compositions and arrangements recorded in 2004 at Echo Park Studios, a Bloomington institution that was shuttered in 2015.

“Basically Baker” was released in 2007, then reissued for the public celebration of David Baker’s 80th birthday on Jan. 21, 2012, a month later than the actual day he was born. DownBeat magazine selected the collection as one of the top 100 jazz albums of the decade. Copies have become scarce.

As part of the effort to release a second volume, the original “Basically Baker” material will be remastered and released on Patois Records together with the new recordings.

New models

In the years since the release of “Basically Baker,” the music industry has changed drastically.

Many independent music labels have folded. Labels that remain, especially those devoted to niche markets such as jazz, rarely can offer to pay advances for recording sessions and other costs associated with the launch of a major project.

Musicians have had to become more creative in how they get recordings made.

While crowdfunding has become a routine method of financing indie music projects, Herzig said jazz audiences haven’t yet fully embraced the new business model. She is trying to help change that.

News about the nonprofit “Basically Baker Volume 2” project is being shared through a Facebook page, which also shares information about Baker, trivia, photographs and links to performance videos.

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is in its final days. The “Basically Baker Volume 2” campaign aims to raise $50,000 to cover the initial recording, publicity and travel costs. All other proceeds go directly to the David N. Baker Scholarship Fund. An anonymous donor will match the amount of any donations received before the end of the campaign June 12. Donations of $20 earn access to a music download while $30 purchases a physical CD. Higher funding levels also add items such as signed CDs, bonus recordings, posters, Herzig’s book, “David Baker: A Legacy in Music” (IU Press, 2011), and various private concerts and lunches with the musicians.

A major concert tribute to David Baker is being planned at the Jacobs School of Music in 2017. Details will be released when they have been finalized.

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