Blues and Jazz Idioms in David Baker's Piano Music

Vasil Cvetkov, Southeastern Louisiana University

David N. Baker (b. 1931) has established himself as an internationally known music educator, composer, performer, and conductor. His long and impressively varied catalog of compositions includes only three works for solo piano. This study explores the musical language of these three works in detail, and thus provides a window into the compositional pallet of a prolific and highly eclectic African-American composer.

The primary purpose of this study is to analyze the specific melodic and harmonic themes as well as the motives in three piano solo pieces composed by David Baker. Piano Sonata I, written in 1968, is Baker's longest and most significant solo piano work. The titles of the three movements, "Black Art," "A Song -- After Paul Lawrence Dunbar," and "Coltrane," clearly evoke African-American culture and form a bridge to specific events and people involved in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Baker's Five Short Pieces for Piano, composed in 1970, are all indebted in varying degrees to the blues. Throughout the cycle, Baker uses frequent changes of meter and flexible rhythms which complement the jazz-influenced harmonies and bluesy themes. All five compositions refer to blues and jazz tradition; some of them are constructed in a classical form or bear resemblance to classical structures. Jazz Dance Suite, written in 1989, is a composition in four movements -- four different dances. The third dance is "The Jitterbug Boogie." This movement is very energetic and explores five different Boogie accompaniments, but the intonations are strongly instrumental.

The final section will include a brief comment and conclusion about the analysis of the sonata, and will summarize my ideas about it. In the end I will review Baker's legacy-performers, and theorists, who analyzed his works, and I will show his influence on music up to present day practices.