Born: March 1, 1921 | Died: December 7, 1999 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Kenny Baker was born in Withernsea, Yorkshire in 1921. Both his parents were musical and he credited his mother with giving him a thorough musical grounding in theory and harmony at a very early age. This stood him in good stead when he wanted to arrange and compose. He began by playing piano, sax, violin and piano-accordian before switching to tenor horn and then cornet. While in Withernsea he played in the Gospel Mission Band as well leading his own band at the Queens hotel. When the family moved to Hull he played local gigs as well as playing in the West Hull Silver Band. In 1940 he came to London with comedian Sandy Powell for a three week season at the London Coliseum. He worked in the theatre first with Lew Stone for the revue Under your Hat and then in the Jack Buchanan show Top Hat and Tails. He worked with Ambrose, Maurice Winnick and Ken Snakehips Johnson before joining the RAF in 1942. Here he began his big band training playing in the RAF Fighter Command Band and also the American Base Command Dance Band. He also guested, when available, with Ambrose, the Squadronaires, Geraldo and Sidney Gross until his discharge from the RAF. In 1945 he joined Ted Heath and with Jack Parnell is credited with stopping Ted Heath having the sweet band that he wanted. They consistently brought a jazz feel to the music. Baker was a featured soloist in the Ted Heath band, he was by now a virtuoso performer and he remained with Heath until the end of 1948, occasionally returning for one off performances through to the 1990s. He led and recorded with a variety of bands including probably his best jazz group the 'Baker's Dozen' that had a regular late night broadcast on the BBC from 1952 for many years. By now he was constantly in demand as a freelance in the theatre, for broadcasts, films and the recording studios as well as playing theatres as a solo variety act. In this period he played with many top USA stars including Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Billy May, Bobby Hackett, Bing Crosby, Billy Eckstine and even Billie Holiday at London's Festival Hall in 1954. Kenny Baker was not a 'bebop' jazz musician but he was a virtuoso trumpeter and flugel horn player and capable modern jazz musician who made many records. Much of his work was scorned by jazz purists, his versatility meant that he recorded with musicians of many shades of jazz. His recordings are interesting because he often used sidemen regarded as 'modern jazz' musicians, including a young Ronnie Scott and a younger Tubby Hayes. Baker's groups were always worth listening to and invariably included top quality jazz musicians. He was active through to the 1990s, guesting with many small jazz groups and appeared with the Best of British jazz package in 1996. He reformed his Baker's Dozen for specific gigs in the 1990s and was active until just a few months before his death in 1999. Robert Crosby's book Kenny Baker: The Life and Times of a Jazz Musician was published in 1999.
Source: David H. Taylor
Awards:Kenny Baker was awarded the MBE in 1999.
Kenny Baker Sessions
Discography by David H. Taylor.
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