David Baker

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Take all the somewhat extended loft jazz jams of the '70s and '80s and add them up. Then, add onto that some extended recording sessions by Parliament, George Clinton, and other P-Funk spin-offs. Add…
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Take all the somewhat extended loft jazz jams of the '70s and '80s and add them up. Then, add onto that some extended recording sessions by Parliament, George Clinton, and other P-Funk spin-offs. Add onto that all the hours that the Moody Blues spent in the recording studio putting together their series of masterpieces, cheesy and profound. Some may be turning gray already at the prospect of the time accumulated so far, but this isn't over. Now, factor in many live recording sessions that have taken place at clubs in New York City, usually stretched over six hours per night times three or four nights in a stretch. Adding all this up, or simply looking at all his recording credits, the obvious question is whether David Baker had time left to exist outside the recording studio.

The man who is said to have worked on more than 2,000 recording sessions came from a family that was knee-deep in the music business. His grandfather was a salesman for Columbia back in the '20s, and Harry Baker, the engineer's father, had his own business installing large hi-fi systems in Atlanta. From age six, David Baker would come along on these jobs. He was soon making amateur recordings of anything he could and learning how to edit tape. In his teens, Baker coordinated sound for the Atlanta Arts Festival. In 1965, at the age of 20, he undertook a fascinating and historic project of field recording events in the ongoing civil rights movement, ranging from registration drives to church hall meetings. Baker has commented that these recordings had an enormous influence on his career as a musical engineer. This work is part of the Movement Soul album, distributed by the Library of Congress.

In the late '60s, Baker became involved with the Vanguard label and Apostolic Studios in New York City, coming into contact with freewheeling spirits such as the Mothers of Invention. He recorded some of the early projects of the Fugs as well as the later country & western masterwork of Ed Sanders, Sanders' Truckstop. Baker did more than just go to gigs with tape recorders, however. He trained formally in the recording sciences at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in 1967 and at the Institute of Audio Research the following fall back in New York. Up until 1970 he remained involved with Apostolic, and during this period recorded classic material involving jazz guitarists John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell. He continued to closely follow jazz through his career, particularly the loft jazz scene and its many self-produced recordings.

Baker became chief engineer with Vanguard in 1975 and also began working on projects for the Japanese Philips/Eastwind label, leading to connections with Sony. He was a freelance engineer until 1986, at which time he started remastering the entire Vanguard catalog for compact disc. Baker worked with just about every label, including ECM, Enja, Blue Note, Atlantic, Verve, Black Saint, Soul Note, and Amulet. He was considered one of the greats at live recording and at capturing the sound of acoustic instruments. Artists who worked with him tended to work with him again and again, and in the case of bands it was common for the members to utilize Baker for all their side projects as well. Pitamaha: Music from Bali, Baker's first field recording of world music, staked out yet another field of recording enterprise for this giant of the industry. Baker died in his sleep at his home in Rochester, NY on July 14, 2004. He was 58.