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Kenny Baker
Kenny Baker
December 7, 1999
Age 78
 
Viral Infection 
 
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                                  Jazz musician Kenny Baker dies 
              
                               LONDON (AP) -- Jazz musician Kenny Baker, 
                             who performed for sellout British audiences in the 
                             1950s, has died. He was 78.  

                             Baker died Tuesday in a hospital in Felpham in 
                             southern England, his manager Jim Simpson said. 
                             He had been hospitalized for three weeks 
                             suffering from a viral infection.  

                             Baker is best known for his work with the band, 
                             Baker's Dozen, and for his numerous 
                             performances on film and television soundtracks. 
                             A session musician, he performed with many 
                             stars, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. 
                             and Tony Bennett. His work can also be heard on 
                             James Bond movie soundtracks.  

                             "Everyone regarded him on a different level to any 
                             other trumpeter in the British Isles," said British 
                             jazz musician John Dankworth. "He was a world 
                             class performer."  

                             Born in Withernsea in northeast England, Baker 
                             briefly played piano, violin and accordion before 
                             settling on the cornet, a brass instrument similar to 
                             the trumpet.  

                             At 17, he headed to London where he became a 
                             popular session musician. During World War II, 
                             he left the professional jazz circuit to serve with 
                             the Royal Air Force and help put on shows for 
                             British troops.  

                             After the war, his reputation as a soloist grew and 
                             he shared top billing with comedy acts such as 
                             Benny Hill and the duo Morecambe and Wise.  

                             In the 1950s, Baker started playing with the 
                             Baker's Dozen, a jazz band that packed in 
                             crowds throughout Britain.  

                             Earlier this year, Baker was awarded an MBE, or 
                             Member of the Order of British Empire, from 
                             Queen Elizabeth II. He also was named the best 
                             trumpet player at the British Jazz awards, the third 
                             time he won the honor.  

                             Baker is survived by his wife, Sue, and daughter, 
                             Julie. Funeral arrangements were not available.   
           
From Canoe

    
  Versatile English trumpet star

Copyright © 1999 Kenny Mathieson   The Scotsman, 1999 

     Kenny Baker was one of a handful of British jazz stars of the traditional and Swing era who 
     seemed to offer genuinely international jazz credentials. Much of his career was spent playing 
     in contexts which did not allow him to exercise those credentials in sufficiently challenging 
     settings, but he was always a consummate professional, and was valued for his ability to 
     anchor a band as an outstanding lead trumpet as well as for the fireworks he could produce as 
     a soloist. 

     His best known association was with the Ted Heath Band immediately after the war, where his 
     trumpet features -- the most famous was Bakerloo Non-Stop -- lit up what could be a rather 
     staid band in jazz terms. His technical command of the horn was complete, and his adaptability 
     allowed him to forge a lucrative career as a studio musician and on television, as well as work 
     in contexts ranging from variety shows to jazz blowing sessions. 

     Kenneth Baker was born into a musical family. His father played saxophone and clarinet, but 
     he began his own musical journey as a child on his mother's instrument, piano, before sampling 
     violin, saxophone, accordion and tenor horn in turn. He finally settled on cornet (and 
     subsequently trumpet and flugelhorn) at the age of 14, and received valuable training in 
     Yorkshire's brass band tradition, initially with a local mission band, and then the West Hull 
     Silver Band.  

     He performed with Manley's Orchestra, a dance band in Hull, while still in his mid-teens. He 
     turned professional when he went on tour with comedian Sandy Powell, and played a summer 
     season at Teignmouth with drummer Les Watson in 1939. He rejoined Powell for another 
     tour, but quit when they reached London to join the throng of musicians who gathered daily in 
     Soho's Archer Street at that time, where the band bookers would seek out players for dance 
     halls and tours.  

     His first engagement was a week at the Streatham Locarno, after which he joined band leader 
     Lew Stone in a revue at the Palace Theatre. A number of opportunities began to open up as 
     musicians went off to the armed forces, and he worked with a sequence of band leaders until 
     1942, including Ambrose, whose orchestra was the leading dance band of the day. He made 
     his first recordings with the band. 

     He joined the RAF in 1942, where he played in the Fighter Command Band, and frequented 
     the West End clubs where visiting American jazz musicians could be found. His reputation as a 
     formidable player was now well established, both in jam sessions and on record, and he was 
     also developing into a skilled arranger. 

     Ted Heath recruited Baker on his demobilisation in 1945 for his new band. As well as lending 
     his skills to Heath's well-honed overall band sound as lead trumpet, Baker was prominently 
     featured as a soloist, both in the full band and in the so-called "band within a band" which 
     performed a cameo within the show as the Kenny Baker Swing Group. 

     The trumpeter remained with Heath until 1948, helping to establish the trombonist at the 
     forefront of British dance bands. When he left the band, he began a pattern that would see him 
     through much of his career, alternating leading his own groups with spells with other bands, 
     and simultaneously carrying on a busy studio session career, playing whatever was required of 
     him. 

     His standing in the public eye was elevated even further when he was invited by the BBC to 
     put together a band for what became a popular radio show, Let's Settle For Music , which 
     began broadcasting in April, 1952, and ran until the end of 1958. The band, Baker's Dozen, 
     allowed him to practice his arranging as well as playing skills, but his jazz abilities are better 
     served on record by the smaller offshoot of that band, Baker's Half Dozen. 

     He contributed a celebrated hot trumpet solo for actress Kay Kendall to mime in the film 
     Genevieve in 1954, and continued his career in variety with the then up-and-coming comedy 
     team of Morecambe and Wise in Blackpool in 1955. This led to further variety bookings, and 
     in turn to television and film appearances, but he continued to play in jazz clubs whenever his 
     increasingly full schedule permitted. 

     He remained a busy freelance throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including renewing his 
     association with a famous colleague from the Heath band, drummer Jack Parnell, who was 
     musical director at ATV in the early 1960s, and who considered Baker to be a crucial 
     component of any band he was putting together, whether for studio or concert work.  

     He also worked regularly with another Heath alumni, trombonist Don Lusher, both in the Best 
     of British Jazz touring band, and in the 'ghost' band under Lusher's leadership which bore the 
     name of the Ted Heath Orchestra. He revived his own Baker's Dozen concept in 1993, and 
     toured and performed throughout the decade, maintaining a high standard until the end. 

     He played cornet on the soundtrack to Alan Plater's television drama The Beiderbecke Affair 
     , and was featured alongside Dizzy Gillespie in an episode of The Muppets . He performed in 
     more conventional settings with a number of notable American jazz musicians in his career, 
     including Benny Goodman and Gerry Mulligan. In 1989-90, he remade all of Louis 
     Armstrong's self-led recordings (with Armstrong's original vocals dubbed in) for a massive 
     15-CD project released as The Louis Armstrong Connection . 

     That mammoth undertaking was an ironic echo of the days when Baker was held up as an 
     exemplar by the Musician's Union in the interest's of enforcing their ban on American musicians 
     playing in the UK in the 1950s -- who needs Armstrong, they asked, when we have Baker? 
     That attitude may have been misguided, but it is indicative of the trumpeter's standing, and a 
     further justification of fellow trumpeter Digby Fairweather's confident assertion that Baker was 
     "a world-class lead trumpeter, solo performer and improviser". 

     He is survived by his third wife, Sue, and their daughter, Julie.

 
 

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All-Music Guide
 
Born: March 1, 1921 in Yorkshire, England 
Died: December 7, 1999 in London, England
 
 Kenny Baker belongs near the top of the list among English traditional jazz musicians. He is an exceptionally strong lead player and skillful soloist within the New Orleans genre. Baker began playing in 1939, and two years later joined Lew Stone's band. After working with George Chisholm, he became a principal member of Ted Heath's orchestra from 1944-1949. He became the band's lead trumpeter, major soloist and a featured composer and attraction. Baker soon became a multi-media star, forming the group Baker's dozen and making many appearances on radio, television and in films. His group was heard on the BBC from 1951-1959, while Baker also played with the Melody Maker All-Stars from 1957-1958. Later, Baker worked with Benny Goodman, reunited with Chisholm and participated in a 1976 recreation celebrating Harry James' music. That same year, Baker formed the Best of British Jazz with Betty Smith and Don Lusher, and helped organize revivals of Heath's music in the '80s. -- Ron Wynn, All Music Guide
 
 
  
 
 

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