09.11. – Happy Birthday !!! Lynn is an active performer and clinician, performing on Soprano and Tenor Saxophones, and Percussion with his own Lynn Baker Quartet, the free-improvisation trio Rhythmic_Void, and the soundpainting ensemble The Noise Gallery.
His clinician appearances at colleges, universities, high schools, and festivals have taken him across the North American continent, Europe, and to Asia. He is a Conn-Selmer Artist Clinician and Origin Records recording artist and his debut release Azure Intention, was released September 2010 and appears on many “Best Jazz CD” of 2010 lists. His latest Origin recording LectroCoustic was released May 2013.
In addition to his performing activities Malcolm Lynn Baker is a Professor of Jazz and Improvised Music at the Lamont School of Music, University of Denver, where he teaches graduate-level courses in Advanced Bebop Concepts, Sound Painting, and Free Improvisation, Jazz History classes, and Jazz Techniques classes. Lynn holds degrees from the University of Oregon and Western Oregon University and has also studied at Mt Hood Community College with Larry McVeigh and at Indiana University with David Baker, Dominic Spera and Eugene Robinson. Before coming to Denver in 1993 Lynn taught at Indiana University and before that Carleton College, and universities in Oregon.
Lynn is an award-winning composer, performer, and educator winning the 1987 Westside Composer Award (Minneapolis, MN), the 1995 COVisions Award for Jazz Composition, the 1980 Ruth Loraine Close award in performance from the University of Oregon, and the 2005 Downbeat Magazine award for Outstanding Achievement in Jazz Education – College Level and students and ensembles from Lamont are frequent Downbeat Student Music Award winners.
My Early Musical Life
I was born and spent the early years of my life in Salem, Oregon, raised by my very supportive parents, Mac and Adella Baker. Even though Salem was a not a cultural center, my parents provided me with as many opportunities as they could. My father was a barber and owned a barbershop next to one of the music stores in town. When I was young I used to shine shoes at the barbershop and sometimes I would take breaks and go to the music store next door and just hang out. My mother played piano a little bit, and she had me take piano lessons when I was seven with Mrs. Ward, I believe, and then with Mrs. Robb.
In the fifth grade you could start band class—I wanted to start in fourth, but they wouldn’t let me. I started on my sister’s hand-me-down Clarinet, and my first teacher was Mr. Whittmer. My mother loved the sound of the Saxophone, and in the sixth grade she took me to the music store next door and bought a Conn student-line saxophone for me. We didn’t know whether to get Alto or Tenor, so I tried each one and even though my mom wanted me to get the Alto, I liked the sound of the Tenor better, and we got that. She wanted me to get the Alto because it was smaller than the Tenor, which was almost as big as I was. There was a summer band program and Morningside Elementary school and my mother drove me out there, cross town, and I started playing my Tenor with Glenn Williams, the band director, but I didn’t practice much.
In the seventh grand I started school and Waldo Jr. High with the band director Grant Hagestedt. There were three Tenor players in the beginning band, and I was number three. Mr. Hagestadt was a very good teacher, and knew how to motivate Jr. high students very well. He gave weekly assignments and every week or two, students had the opportunity to “Challenge Up.” I took this as a personal challenge and started practicing. Within about two months, I was the first chair Tenor player and never relinquished my position through Junior High and High School.
Mr. Hagestadt started a Dixieland band when I was in the eight grade and invited me to play Saxophone in it. He didn’t know much about jazz, but he enjoyed it. He had a set of books with Dixieland tunes in them so we learned tunes like Tiger Rag, Sugar Blues, Struttin’ with Some Barbeque, and Big Butter and Egg Man without ever hearing the music preformed. But we were the best teenage Dixieland band in town, so we got all the gigs: County fairs, State fairs, UNICEF fund raisers, Parents Without Partners meetings, you name it; if they needed it, the Chowder House Ate was there for them. Fortunately, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band toured around this time, and I got to hear New Orleans jazz played live—it was a very powerful experience. Half the CHA band was a year older than I was, and when they went to High School, we stopped playing regularly, but most of us had the Jazz Bug.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school the band director, my old teacher Glenn Williams, invited me to play in the McNary High School stage band summer reading sessions. We read simple arrangements of big band swing tunes. One of them was a blues that had open solo choruses. I remember Mr. Williams asked if anyone wanted to solo, and I raised my hand right away because I played Dixieland and wasn’t afraid, but I clearly remember the other students gasping at the audacity of my volunteering to improvise. There were no chord changes on my part and they probably would have just confused me anyway, so the only guide I had was my ear and the few background phrases that were written in my part. I figured that if the notes worked for background phrases, then they would work for improvising too, so I started my improvisation with the first note of the background phrase. Fortunately, it was the sixth of a dominant chord which I immediately resolved down to the fifth and had my first lesson in “Tension and Release.”
I played in the McNary band under Mr. Williams for two years, and then he left McNary to teach at Sprague, the new high school in town. A young band director fresh from Oberlin Conservatory, Elling Hoem, succeeded Mr. Williams at McNary. Elling and I became good friends right away and he encouraged me to pursue my love of music. I had never taken a private lesson on Saxophone and he found me a very good teacher with whom to study, Dave Matthews. I started studying with Dave in January of my Senior year and preformed that year in the Solo and Ensemble Contest where, once more, I was third place. And once more I took that as a personal challenge to get better.
Another important mentor at McNary was the choral director, Alice Rose Jones. She invited me to play saxophone and percussion in the Highlanders, the McNary “swing choir.” She even arranged for me to go on their Hawaiian tour with them. Ms. Jones was a very important person in my musical development.
My Undergraduate Years
I started attending college in the summer of 1973 at Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. I was interested in playing and teaching music, and OCE seemed like a good choice because my Saxophone instructor taught there and they had a strong Education program. I was continually dissatisfied during these years of my life and I transferred many times to many schools to try to remedy my feelings.
In my sophomore year I transferred to U of O, the biggest, and supposedly the best, music school in the state and while I had good experiences there, playing in the top Saxophone quartet and the Wind Ensemble conducted buy Richard Wagner, I was dissatisfied with the jazz program. However, I did have a chance to hang out and play with a young John Zorn at this time, and that relationship had a powerful impact on my music esthetic.
But that wasn’t enough to keep me in Eugene, and I transferred back to OCE after Fall Quarter of my Junior year. OCE hadn’t changed much in that short period of time, but a couple of new students had arrived, most notably my friend Randy Kim. Randy had joined Paul Schimming at OCE. Every place that I went I found at least one fellow “searcher” and I was always able to learn as much from them as I learned from my professors. At OCE I took English classes from Robert Baker, who was a devout jazz hound, and who introduced me to his bass-playing son, Phil, who was in high school and the time. I started jamming with Phil and other young musicians in Salem, including the guy that first turned me on to Charlie Parker, Stu Fessant, Stu had been attending Southern Oregon State College and was dissatisfied, and Phil was planning to attend Mt. Hood Community College in the fall. Mt. Hood was the jazz hotspot of the Pacific NW at this time and the Stan Kenton band frequently picked up players from Mt. Hood. In short, if you wanted to prove that you could play jazz, you attended Mt. Hood Community College and played in Larry McVeigh’s band. So, at the beginning of my Senior year, I transferred again, this time moving to Portland with my friends Stu and Phil. At Mt. Hood I auditioned and earned the 2nd Tenor chair in the top jazz band. Due to the band’s connection of with Stan Kenton and the strength of the brass section, the band played a near-steady diet of Kenton tunes. I grew tired of this quickly and requested the assistant director, Dave Barduhn, that we play some Thad Jones. After my third request, he told me that there was no was we were going to play any Thad Jones music, and I made the most rash decision of my young life – I moved out of my apartment after the fall quarter and quit the band without telling Mr. McVeigh or Dave that I was leaving or why, transferring back to OCE.
At this point, I’d transferred five times to three different schools and decided I needed to finish my degree and get on with my life. But the big lesson that I had learned, finally, was that other people and other places and other schools couldn’t fix what was wrong about what I was feeling. To “fix” it I had to take responsibility for my musical growth no matter where I was, and that was a very powerful lesson.
My Early Professional Life
I am a lucky person. As I was completing my Undergrad degree, I had noticed that older friends that had joined the Public school teaching profession had stopped playing their instruments, and although I wanted to teach, I didn’t want to give up playing my instrument. As a result, I was in the first class to graduate from OCE with a new degree, Bachelor of Science in Music, not Music Education. I graduated after fall quarter and I started regularly attending jazz jam sessions. Almost immediately a local bandleader—Ricky Santos—heard me at a session and invited me to join his top 40 band to temporarily fill in for his pianist/bassist/singer who was ill. The band had a six-night-a-week gig in my hometown and I jumped at the chance. When the ill musician returned to the band, Ricky negotiated the club to increase the band salary in order to retain me. I was grateful and started taking on extra responsibilities—transcribing/arranging, signing background vocals, playing percussion, and I even bought Phil Baker’s old Rickenbacker bass and learned some rudimentary bass lines. At this time I was renting a studio downtown and teaching some private lessons there. My daily schedule six days a week was: wake up at 2 pm, go to the club, rehearse, eat dinner, go home, clean up, come back to the club and play the gig, leave the club at 1 am, get breakfast, drive to my studio downtown and practice until sunrise, go home and go to sleep. On Sunday I would sleep-in then drive to Portland and hit the jam sessions. After about two months of this, I went a little crazy. The band was ending its run at the club and there were some personal tensions between the members, and Ricky was going to relocate to Las Vegas. I had grown tired of the top 40- business and didn’t want to move to Vegas, so I retired from the Ricky Santos band. I had saved a little bit of money, so I moved to Los Angeles for a while, but even though I had some non-music job offers, I didn’t dig the vibe, so I moved back to Salem (sounds strange to say that now!). That summer, I got my first music teaching job in Moses Lake, Washington in an Upward Bound program where I taught class guitar and American pop music history to disaffected high school dropouts — and yet, I still loved it!
In the fall I took a trip to Eugene with my friend Brian Huntley. He was checking out a graduate program and on the lark I investigated the music teacher training program. I didn’t have anything else going on and decided to apply for school that began in just a couple to weeks. I started the Education program, but pretty soon was playing in all the top groups and not enjoying the teacher training classes (A/V class really busted me), so I transferred into the Master of Music program. Wayne Bennett had joined the faculty that year as the Wind Ensemble director and he was a great inspiration to me. J. Robert Moore had also recently joined the faculty as the Oboe and Saxophone instructor and I enjoyed working with him. I also met another important “searcher” at this time James Mark Olson. James was leading a student group called the Experimental Jazz Ensemble and invited me to join the group on the tour to Pendleton, Oregon to replace Tom Smith, their tenor saxophonist who was ill. After the tour, Jim expanded the instrumentation of the ensemble to include me. This was a great group that included Michael Golden, John Bishop, and Ralph Hardiman, among many others, and was advised by the fantastic musician and mentor Ed Kammerer. At the end of that year I auditioned for and won a Ruth Lorainne Close music scholarship, but had to decline it in the fall when Mr. Moore offered me a Saxophone teaching assistantship. I completed my degree work next year and earned my Masters degree in Saxophone performance. I paid for the rest of my college expenses by playing in a dance band on Friday and Saturday nights at the Eugene Elks Lodge. The drummer in that band couldn’t swing to save his life but he knew every ballroom dance beat and tempo perfectly and we were a great hit with the dance clubs. I learned great lessons about having appropriate chops for the gig during that time!
I was looking forward to securing a college teaching job, but couldn’t find one so, once again, like after my undergraduate degree, I had to take a job playing to earn a living while I looked for work teaching. This time I auditioned for a rock/latin fusion band named the Lon Guitarski Group. The Group had just finished their recording and for some reason the saxophonist on the recording, my friend and great player Jeff Holman, wasn’t going to play with the band live. The group took its name from the guitarist and co-principal songwriter in the group, Don Latarski and we developed quite a following in Eugene and surrounding areas. Inner City Records, who had recently had a hit with Jeff Lorber, was going to release the recording. They eventually released the recording under Don’s name and called it Haven.
The recording didn’t do very well and the work very suddenly fell off in 1980 so it became a less permanent opportunity and all the members of the band had to find other things to do. I moved back in with my parents in the summer and for the third time started pursuing public teaching licensure.
My College Teaching Career
I was deciding if I was going to enroll for fall quarter classes at OCE when I got a phone call from Gerald Poe, who was the Prof. of Trumpet at Univ. of Oregon at that time. Prof. Poe and I had never worked together, but he knew I was interested in college teaching and hadn’t found a job yet. It turned out that his friend, Max MacKee the band director at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland Oregon had broken his arm and decided to take fall and winter quarters off to fully recover – the only problem was that he made this decision one week before school was to start and they needed a temporary replacement in a hurry. I called the Music Chair at SOSC, Stu Turner, and had a brief interview with him, packed my stuff, drove to Ashland, lived in a dorm room for a few days and started working. I continue to be very grateful to Gerald Poe for providing me this opportunity to start my college teaching career. At SOSC I directed the Concert Band, taught Woodwind Methods Class, Form and Analysis, Conducting, and Clarinet and Saxophone lessons. I had a great time for about seven months in Ashland, met a lot of great people and made some marvelous memories, but Max was well and I was out of a gig.
The next fall I taught at Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande – completing my circuit of working at or teaching at just about all of the public college music programs in Oregon at the time! At EOSC the first year I was a one-year replacement for their clarinet teacher but I taught a lot more than that. The second year I was there I was replacing the band director and taught a bunch more stuff. All-in-all at EOSC I taught: First and Second year Music Theory, Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Clarinet, Saxophone and Trumpet lessons, Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Methods Classes, directed the Concert Band, Jazz Band, Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra and started the Grande Ronde Community Band.
The next year I started my job at Carleton College in Northfield MN, breaking away from Oregon, and public college teaching. The Co-Chair of the Music program at that time was Steve Kelly and he was a great mentor to me. At Carleton I taught two jazz bands, the concert band, jazz improvisation, saxophone lessons, jazz arranging class, Free Jazz History class and an improvisation class called the Sound Exploration Ensemble. In addition to working at a great school with some marvelous students I had opportunities in the Twin Cities and there I co-founded a big band with another “searcher” Kevin Kjos. Kevin and I started the Cedar Avenue Big Band in 1985, Kevin as the personnel director, me as the musical director. Even though Kevin and I both left the Twin Cities, the group was still playing in 2009. Kevin and I were also in a small group that was part of the Twin Cities new music scene at the time the Sound Exploration Ensemble, yes the same name as my Carleton class. I won a Westside Composers award during this time for work with the SEE. At Carleton I had I really good drummer in my band the first two years named Joe Rousseau. Joe was the son of master saxophonist and educator Eugene Rousseau who taught at Indiana University at that time. I thus became friends with Eugene and subsequently applied for the doctoral program at IU. I took summer classes there in 1986 and took a sabbatical leave from Carleton in 1988-89 to be one of Prof. Rousseau’s teaching assistants and take my residency. After that year I returned to Northfield, but I started looking for a change.
In 1991 one of my students won a Downbeat Student Music award and I noticed that one of Prof. Rousseau’s students had also won and I took an opportunity to call Eugene to express my congratulations. Out of the blue, he told me there was an opening at IU for Lecturer in Saxophone, specializing in teaching jazz saxophone and asked if I would be interested in the job. My wife and I talked, but not too long, and I soon accepted his offer and in the fall moved to Bloomington to teach.
At IU I taught the saxophone-playing jazz majors, was the Woodwind Dept. Secretary and was engaged in big band sectionals and jazz recital preparation. I was able to work closely with the jazz education legend, David N. Baker, and Dominic Spera was very generous to me, providing many opportunities. I also continued to take lessons with Prof. Rousseau and enjoyed those very much. In addition to my work at IU, I was the musical director for Dave Miller’s Jazz Fables band that worked each week with a guest artist at Bear’s Place right across the street from the school of music, and played in his collaborative group Ut House. I also became friends with the great drummer Stan Gage – the most intense musician I have ever played with. Stan and I formed various trios and duets and performed until his untimely death. I also worked with Peter Kienle and Monika Herzig in several settings. But alas, the job wasn’t that secure or well-paid and I looked for work that not only satisfied those criteria but also offered broader involvement.
In 1993 I joined the faculty of the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, where I have been since. As the Director of the Jazz Studies and Commercial Music program I built the program to include 15 ensembles; 3 big bands, 3 vocal ensembles, and 9 combos. In 2015 we hired Steve Wiest and he and Art Bouton now Co-Chair the Jazz Studies Department. The faculty include great artist/educators; Steve Wiest, Art Bouton, Al Hood, Eric Gunnison, Mike Abbott, Ken Walker, Bijoux Barbosa, Mike Marlier, Dave Hanson and Donna Wickham. In 2005 I won the Downbeat magazine award for Outstanding Achievement in Jazz Studies in the Collegiate category. Many Lamont students have won major awards, performed with national artists, appeared on many recordings, and held important teaching positions. At Lamont I teach the first year of Jazz Improvisation and Composition, two quarters of Jazz and Commercial Music History and Repertoire, Jazz Techniques classes, coach the Hard Bop and Free Improvisation combos and direct the Lamont Jazz Orchestra, the top large instrumental jazz ensemble.
Since coming to Denver I have been very active professionally, playing in the Specturm Jazz Orchestra, performing in and serving as the musical director of the Creative Music Works Repertoire Orchestra, playing in the Chie Imaizumi Jazz Orchestra, and leading the Rocky Mountain Jazz Repertoire Orchestra – a group that performs annually at the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Performing Arts Series since 2006. I have also been the programming the partnered jazz events at the Cherokee Ranch series and have performed with Jovino Santos Neto, Richard Boukas and many other marvelous players in specially programmed topics concerts. I am a member of the improvising trio Rhythmic_Void which performed at the 2009 International Society for Improvised Music Conference which was hosted by Lamont and the University of Denver. In 1995 I won the Colorado Visions Award in Jazz Composition and have won Meet the Composer grants. The Lynn Baker Quartet and Quintet have frequently performed in the “Front Range” area and at jazz festivals.
Despite appearing on several jazz, big band, and classical CDs, my first recording as a leader is dropping in Sept. 2010. I am very pleased with the playing on this recording by my working quartet of Reggie Berg – piano, Bijoux Barbosa – bass, and Paul Mullikin – drums. Azure Intention is released on Origin Records from Seattle and contains eight original compositions chosen from works created over a 20 year span. In 2013 my next release titled LectroCoustic, a collection or compositions celebrating grooves from the African-American groove tradition received rave reviews.