Jazz blues in the city of funk

Wade Baker at Jazz Central and Tumbleweed

By Benjamin Smith
photo: Wade Baker bridges the gap between jazz and blues on May 2 and 3; photo credit: jcaptures.com

On April 28, 1960, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded a seminal four-track album entitled Leeway. Not only did this record earn contemporary critical acclaim, but decades after its release, it inspired Indiana trumpeter Wade Baker to pursue a career in jazz. Baker has since dived deep into the blues, too, and this May the Dayton transplant – who now also sings and plays bass and electric guitar – will promote his passion for the two genres at two local venues. Baker took an afternoon to chat with the Dayton City Paper about his musical evolution, chaotic drummers and Dayton’s “funky” attitude.

So, how did a jazz trumpeter from Jasper, Ind., start moonlighting as a blues musician?

When I moved to Cincinnati in 2006, I began playing electric bass in a blues band. This experience definitely infused quite a bit of “bluesy grease” in my writing. I toured for over three years as an electric bassist and continually get calls to play on recording sessions and perform at major gigs all over the country. As for being a blues guitarist and singer, I would say that I’m still learning. I’ve only been fronting the Wade Baker Blues Group since February of 2011, and even though I’m playing many of the most impressive blues venues and festivals, I know I have a lot to learn. – Wade Baker

Some of your original compositions display strong funk influences. From whence the funk?

In 2011, I moved to Dayton and began playing with a lot of cats who used to hit with the Ohio Players, Sun, Slave, Heatwave, Lakeside, Platypus, Zapp, etc. I had absolutely no clue how many incredible funk bands were present in Dayton in the 1970s, and that most of those musicians still live in town. I would definitely say that moving to Dayton has schooled me in funk. – WB

This month, you’ll be playing with the Jazz Central Big Band at Jazz Central and leading the Wade Baker Blues Group at Tumbleweed Connection. As a performer, what’s the biggest difference between a blues audience and a jazz audience?

It’s actually kind of difficult to distinguish the difference. When I’m fronting the Wade Baker Blues Group and playing guitar, it’s almost as if another innuendo-laden personality gets set free. There are many more liberties in the blues, [concerning] acceptable dress code, concert etiquette, sobriety levels (laughs). Simply put, I play the blues because it’s so much fun, and I play jazz because it satisfies my musical desires.     – WB

How would you honestly describe Dayton’s attitude toward jazz?

Since I travel all over the country playing jazz, I feel I have a reasonable idea of how people perceive the music nationwide. Dayton, compared to most places, is incredibly clueless about jazz – barring a very small contingency of people “in the know.” I’m not sure if it’s because Dayton has traditionally been a “funk” town … or [because] there hasn’t been a reason for the Dayton public to get excited about a jazz artist. – WB

Jazz musicians are often asked why critics seem eager to write jazz’s obituary. What are your thoughts on this question?

People’s attention spans are now measured in nanoseconds, and jazz requires a depth of thought that the modern world does not accommodate. We have let our culture become watered down and perverted to the most pathetic levels ever, and it’s reflected in our artistic endeavors. Most people think “American Idol” or “The Voice” are acceptable forms of “live” entertainment and consider karaoke singers to be musicians. Frankly, the lack of appreciation for true talent and ability makes me question how long anyone will care to watch humans creating live music anymore. – WB

You have appeared on some hip-hop albums as a “gun for hire.” How does modern jazz fit into the context of modern hip-hop? 

I feel jazz musicians are equipped with the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic capacity to function on a high level in any idiom. Jazz, hip-hop, blues and funk are all African American musical forms and to deny that fact would be irresponsible. Jazz and blues will always be prevalent in hip-hop. For example: Tyler the Creator is a modern hip-hop artist. On his latest release, Wolf, he uses Frank Ocean’s music and beats on tracks. Frank’s chord voicings are atypical for most hip-hop records. They sound like jazz harmonies. This is a great example of how jazz harmonic language can work perfectly in modern hip-hop.  – WB

Final question: Jazz drummers are supernovas of constant chaos – agree or disagree?

Drummers, period, cause chaos (laughs). Jazz musicians, especially high-level jazz musicians, are some of the most picky people to deal with! Be it the food you eat on the road or the sound of the piano at the venue, to who’s setting up where on stage … blah, blah, blah. Personally, I’m incredibly low maintenance. Give me a stage, an audience and someplace to shower and rest and I’ll lay it on the line for the music. – WB

Wade Baker performs with the Jazz Central Big Band on Thursday, May 2, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (and the first Thursday of every month) at Jazz Central, 2931 E. Third St. Admission is $5. The Wade Baker Blues Group performs on Friday, May 3, at 9:30 p.m. at Tumbleweed Connection, 454 E. Fifth St. Please call 937.228.5500 for admission details. For more information, visit wadebaker.com.

 Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at BenjaminSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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