Tributes — To a Great Musician!
I first met Buddy while we were both at Indiana University. The two suggestions I remember him giving me were, “Get yourself a pitch pipe and carry it with you—work on recognizing intervals, chords, scales, etc.” and, “don't practice on the bandstand!”
Buddy has always been one of my favorite people and his playing and teaching are an inspiration to all.
--Jamey Aebersold, October, 1998
On Buddy Baker’s Retirement
What sort of man should I aim to be?
One who puts first in his heart family.
Yet one who lets others come into the fold,
And shares with them wonders that music can hold.
A man with a plan, and a will to achieve,
With a heart that in goodness and substance believes.
Yes, I want a tongue that works by the numbers,
And a knowledge that life is too short for long slumbers.
I want a routine that is done every day,
To know that these dues are a small price to pay.
For I want to see that through hard work is borne,
A life of fulfillment and joy on the horn!!
I want to be able to show others why,
Unattained goals are the failure to try.
To set lofty aims, and always to strive,
And then in so doing, feeling wholly ALIVE!
Some think I’m crazy...my mind is amiss.
“Surely one can’t live a life such as this!
We’re just not endowed with these gifts from our Maker.”
To them, I say, “You’ve never met Buddy Baker.”
So God bless you, sir, in your well-deserved rest.
And Heaven help Nancy with her new homebound pest!
Thank you for showing us all of life’s worth.
I hope that you hook the biggest Rainbow on Earth!!
Just one more thing, sir, and thanks for your time...
But something just recently came to my mind:
Now that I’ve rambled and gone on and on...
Were you thinking of selling that beautiful Conn?
Thank you, Mr. Baker...and God Bless
--Tom Gibson, U.S. Navy Band
Bill Frisell, July 23, 2007
Dear Mr. Baker:
I don’t know if you’ll remember me—It’s been 35 (?!) years. I’ve been meaning to write to you since I can’t even remember. I just wanted to say THANK YOU. When I was a student at UNC you gave me so much inspiration and the confidence to keep going. Back then, the whole idea was so fragile. I had so many moments of uncertainty and fear. You helped me SO much. I just can’t thank you enough. I feel so lucky to still be playing music and to have met you. Music is good. That’s one thing I’m certain of. I hope all is well, and sorry this has taken me so long.
All the best,
The first time I heard Buddy play he was on the road with Henry Mancini and the tour brought them to the University of Montana in Missoula where I was an undergraduate in 1964. I knew of his playing from his tours and recordings with the Stan Kenton band, so I was very excited to hear him perform. As luck would have it, he did get to do a 16-bar solo somewhere in the middle of the program! However, most of the concert was some bald guy playing the flute.
The Stan Kenton connection is an important one to note. Buddy did several tours and some recordings over the years with Stan, mostly in 1959 and 1963. Some of the recordings to look for are “Voices and Brass.”
Jiggs Whigham was in the section with Buddy for this one, Stan Kenton Presents Jeannie Turner and Singers I Have Known. He was also on the faculty for the Stan Kenton Jazz Camps from the beginning in the summer of 1961.
By 1965, Buddy was married and had two children, and another on the way, when a family allergy problem forced a mid-year move to the relatively pollen-free air and elevation of Denver and the Rocky Mountains. He kept busy playing gigs around Denver and working for Mel Rockley at Rockley’s Music (the store is still an active force in the Denver music business). Within six months he had joined the faculty at the University of Northern Colorado to teach trombone and begin the jazz program.
As the music program grew at UNC, so did Buddy’s studio. When I arrived as a TA in the fall of 1981, Buddy and I were teaching 46 trombone and euphonium lessons weekly. Jack Robinson had another studio full of bass trombonists and tubists. Bill Pfund had nearly the same number of trumpet students and Jack Herrick had a large group of hornists. The brass scene was literally buzzing with energy and talent.
Over the years virtually hundreds of undergraduate and graduate trombone and euphonium students have gone through Buddy’s studio and the program at UNC. Not all who tried were successful. Lots of intelligent practice was required. Those without talent simply didn’t get accepted into the program. Those without endurance and desire didn’t continue. The standards were very high and remain so today. Many of us went there in part for just that reason, to measure ourselves against a high standard. Those who worked had all the support from a warm and caring teacher that one could possibly imagine.
To list all of Buddy’s accomplishments, magazine and journal articles, music camps and festivals, clinics, workshops, performances and music publications, would be a daunting task.
However, there are some that stand out that I feel I can share with you. He has been a member of the International Trombone Workshop/Festival faculty from the beginning. In fact, he was ITA’s second president (1976-1978) and has remained an active board member since then. His guidance and care are one of the reasons that the ITA is the vibrant organization that it is today. Those of you that have been members of ITA and have been reading this journal for many years will remember Buddy’s column, Exit Sliding. He has been a member of the Skimore Jazz Festival faculty for 10 years. His activities there include both a busy performance schedule and many teaching activities. Like I said, it’s a long list and this is just a small portion of the whole!
Three of his music publications remain in print and are widely used by trombone teachers. These are Tenor Trombone Method, Songs for the Young Trombonist, and Master Solos for Trombone, published by Hal Leonard. Buddy has long been an active clinician for the C.G. Conn Company. These performances and clinics have taken him to nearly every state and many countries.
Many of Buddy’s former students have found employment as performers in orchestras and military bands, and even more are now pursuing combined careers as university teachers and performers.
I would say Buddy is at the top of the trombone business, and trombone players and associates will always be grateful to him for sharing his great talent and personality.
When I first heard that Buddy Baker had announced his impending retirement my first thoughts were those of thankfulness. Not only had I had the opportunity to study with him (I received a DA in trombone performance from UNC in 1983), but my son had the opportunity as well (Jemmie received a BM from UNC in 1996). I knew also that we were not losing this great friend and teacher, but that he would have now more time to travel and perform. Best of all, he’ll be much more available to visit my campus and perhaps even spend a few more days fly-fishing some of our blue ribbon Montana lakes and streams!
A quick phone call to Buddy confirmed my suspicions. Buddy’s plans for the future include much more performance and travel. Knowing Bud, I’d suspect that some serious fly-fishing and hunting are on the menu as well. Like Bill Pfund and others, I have shared many wonderful times with Buddy and his family and I am hopeful for many more!
We all wish Buddy and his entire family the very best in the future. And we thank you, Buddy, for sharing your wealth of knowledge and wisdom, your talents and your humor with so many of us. Our world is much brighter from your presence!
I came to UNC to study with Buddy after having completed two years of orthodontic treatment. It was a frustrating time for me as I had a freshman year of college under my belt and had achieved some measure of success and consistency on the horn but had been reduced to “infancy” once again. Just having the braces off my teeth was no magic in itself, as my embouchure had been substantially adjusted by the movement of my teeth. Anyway, coming to study with Buddy made a world of difference in not only my playing, but also in my outlook. He took my mind off of the mechanical aspects of playing the horn and riveted my concentration on the sound and feel of correct fundamentals. He did this in such a way as to put me at ease. The confidence I gained from his teaching, not to mention modeling his correct playing, quickly brought about a return of good, solid fundamentals in my own playing. Had I not had the opportunity to study with him, I seriously doubt whether I would have gone on to have a career performing on the instrument we love.
Paul Hunt, Bowling Green State University
Buddy Baker as teacher
Buddy Baker is one of the very few, truly great, original pedagogues of the trombone. Like those rare master teachers, Buddy Baker has unique methods of describing a process which not only work, but stick. For example, one can talk to just about any generation of Buddy Baker student about “the number two tongue,” and be on completely familiar, common ground. It isn’t just the concept that he manages to convey successfully, it is the means by which one is to accomplish it. He has ways of saying things that just stick: “Correctness leads to consistency which leads to confidence,” or “the ‘number two tongue’ is the longest possible [tongued] note with a ‘good front’ on it!”
His solutions and suggestions are always the result of a great deal of careful, well-considered thought. As I refer back to the lessons I took with him, I find he had taken the time to read someone’s ideas about a specific topic, or listened to them being presented in a master class and THEN RETURNED TO THOSE IDEAS for careful thought and consideration. I believe he spent many years trying to come up with the best way to say something. He is constantly thinking about how to present something or say something so that it is uncluttered, clear, and precise. As a result, his splendid approaches to tonguing and technique, the thoroughness of his warm-up, and his approach to music-making are still extremely valuable to me as a player and a teacher.
Buddy Baker anecdotes
Buddy is a gifted story teller and uses humor as effectively as anyone I know. I remember well the reception I had at my apartment following my senior recital in my last year as an undergraduate at UNC. My apartment, which was not very big, was full of friends, family, and students from the local high school at which I had just completed my student teaching. At one point I was surprised to find the noise of the party had come to a lull. I happened to look in the living room and there was Buddy, surrounded by mesmerized students and my parents, telling his stories. And what were the stories about? I can still recall clearly his descriptions of his experiences on the Stan Kenton Band and anecdotes about jazz persona (the colorful Bill Harris, a prankster in his own right, was one of his favorite trombone players and a person about whom he loved to relay information); his experiences as a military pilot in Germany in the mid-1950s; his stories about being at Indiana University as a student of Thomas Beversdorf; and his wonderful stories describing his favorite topics: his family and his love of the outdoors, (hunting, camping, and especially fishing). He always spices his stories with sound effects, multiple voices, and the occasional mimed action. (Someone would drop a dumb line or joke while he was standing there in conversation with you. His eyes would glaze over and then he’d allow his entire body to pitch face-first straight forward to the floor. He was physically adept enough that he could catch himself with hands just inches before he hit the floor. And believe me, he practiced this move until he had it mastered!). And who could forget his penchant for somehow throwing his entire voice into his nose and exclaiming, “Very good!”
Buddy as a mentor
Finally, as I consider all the wonderful things I would say about Buddy, the aspect I value most is his role as a mentor and counselor. Buddy to this day continues to be a source of guidance for me. I often ask myself, “What would Buddy do in this instance?” And I still actively seek his counsel on key issues in my life. His model constantly reminds me about the commitment one makes when one takes on a student, when one chooses to advise, or when one opens himself/herself to be that leading figure. By consistently applying positive habits and living a model that is a positive influence, Buddy Baker has been for me what Stephen Covey terms an “agent of change.” I can only hope the reader will be lucky enough to find his or her own mentor in the way that I have been fortunate enough to have worked with and been changed by Buddy Baker.
--Paul Hunt, Bowling Green State University