All of us at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute are still in shock about the sudden death of David Baker last Saturday. David had led the RSMI Program for Jazz since its inception in 2000, so naturally he had developed a certain way he expected things to be done. When I became director of RSMI in 2010, I was in a constant whirlwind with all three of the programs, grasping for any bit of knowledge I could try to retain as I learned on the fly, so of course things didn’t run exactly as David was accustomed to, of course I dropped a few balls here and there. So when he showed up in my doorway and asked to come in and sit down, I expected—and possibly deserved—a frustrated scolding. I recall that conversation vividly. “I don’t know how you did it,” he said. “You made things so unbelievably smooth. You stepped right in and didn’t miss a beat. It’s been a real pleasure.” That moment of encouragement was exactly what I needed, and he must have known it. I carried his positive energy with me through the rest of the summer and still think of it frequently, even constantly for the past few days. That innate understanding of and caring for people, coupled with his spectacular creativity and musicality, made him one of the greatest musicians and mentors the jazz world has ever produced.
When the 2016 class of RSMI jazz fellows arrive on June 10, the pain of David’s loss will certainly come back afresh, but even though those energetic, young musicians will be the first without his leadership, they will be carrying David’s banner forward with every note they blow, surrounded by the music he loved, the music to which he dedicated his life. When David’s biography, David Baker: a Legacy in Music, was published in 2011, David brought me a copy inscribed “To Anthony, with respect, admiration, and affection.” Right back at ya, David.
–Anthony Roberts, Director of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute
For more information about David Baker's influence read this New York Times article.