Taswell Baird Jr.: Age 80 | Cause Of Death: BRAWLING/ BEATING

Taswell Baird Jr.

(b. June 24, 1922 St. Louis, MO, d. 23 Nov. 2002, Oakland, CA)

Jazzman dies after beating
Trombonist, 80, hit in wheelchair

OaklandĀ — Old age couldn’t keep Taswell Baird Jr. from his music. When he could no longer play the trombone, the beloved instrument on which he had accompanied some of jazz’s greatest stars, he took up piano at age 79.

But the music ended Friday when Baird, 80, succumbed to injuries suffered Nov. 5 when three attackers threw him from his wheelchair, beat him and robbed him of $80 outside his West Oakland retirement home.

Alameda County coroner’s officials said Baird’s death is being investigated by police as a homicide, which would make him the 100th victim in Oakland this year.

“These people preyed on old people. We’ve got to get these animals off the street,” said Clifton Gibson, an employee at St. Mary’s Gardens, the senior citizen complex on 10th Street where Baird had been a talkative and well-liked resident for 10 years.

Baird, who played on recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong, had been returning home from errands at a nearby supermarket in his motorized scooter around dusk when he was jumped by three men between 15 and 25 years old, his daughter, Meredith Baird, said she had been told by police.

Baird had been followed to and from the store, then one robber threw Baird on the ground and beat him until a passer-by chased the attackers off, his daughter said.

Coroner’s officials referred calls on Baird’s cause of death to Oakland police, who did not return calls for comment Saturday.

“I’m deeply saddened and angry because I don’t know why these youngsters would do this,” said Meredith Baird, who lives in East Oakland.

She said her father would not have tried to fight off his attackers but would have readily handed over his money.

“He valued his life more than that,” said Baird, who had kept a bedside vigil at Summit Medical Center in Oakland for nearly three weeks as her father’s condition worsened.

Baird was born in St. Louis in 1922. Also known as “Little Joe,” after his middle name, Baird received his first trombone at age 12. Both he and his brother Bill went on to travel the country, playing gigs and recording albums with jazz greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Lena Horne, his daughter said.

Baird said her father didn’t put down his trombone until 10 years ago and still loved listening to jazz and meeting with musician friends at clubs. While he used a motorized scooter to get around because of arthritis in his legs, her father was still active and often ran errands for other senior citizens, she said.

“He was a consummate jazz musician type. He dressed nicely and was well- spoken, just a real classy guy,” said Barbara Land, a Richmond resident who met Baird in a Laney College jazz workshop.

Gibson said he loved to tell stories about his 50 years on the road or to teach other residents about musical instruments. He was well-known at St. Mary’s Gardens for his great collection of jazz records.

“He was always a gentleman,” said Esola DeJohnett, a fellow resident who took piano lessons with Baird last year.

Since the attack, many of the 103 residents are afraid to leave their complex.

Rose Arline, 87, used to go to the nearby shopping center for “little odds and ends.”

Now, “I’m scared to go there myself,” she said.

“Those kind of people,” she said of the assailants, “only think about themselves. They don’t have any sympathy.”

“This is something we will never get past,” added resident Mable Hall. “It could have been one of us.”

E-mail Janine DeFao atĀ jdefao@sfchronicle.com.