During a recent lunch at El Rancho Grande, Wade said of his Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nomination in the Jazz category: “I would have loved to win so I could have some tangible thing to show Dad and say, ‘Look, I don’t just sit at home all day.’ But to have the panel of people that select the nominees to think enough of me, I was just really geeked about it.”
Although Baker nabbed his first CEA nomination in the Jazz category, he's a pervasive presence throughout Cincinnati’s music scene. In addition to playing trumpet with a rotating cast of Jazz luminaries in the Wade Baker Jazz Collaboration, he's toured with Hip Hop/Jazz/Jam locals Eclipse, provided bass for Blues cat Jon Justice for the past three years and has a regular gig with the veteran Blue Birds Big Band. And that’s just a partial list.
It’s an eclectic and challenging schedule, but Baker is more than up for the tasks at hand.
“I try to stay busy,” Baker says with a wry laugh. “It’s how I eat.”
Baker grew up in Jasper, Ind., and, although sports dominated his early years, he turned his musical aptitude and passion into a four-year stint in the University of Indianapolis’ music program. Hearing Lee Morgan’s Leeway album gave Baker his Jazz jones, which was fueled by his professors.
“I originally wanted to be a Classical trumpet player in an orchestra, and then I got Leeway and it changed my mind,” Baker says. “When I started showing interest, my teachers were hands-on.
They’d take me to their gigs and I’d get to watch the best players in town. And when they wouldn’t go with me, I’d go stand outside the clubs until the doorman felt sorry for me because it was snowing, and they’d be like, ‘Come inside the door, you can watch.’ ”
After graduation, Baker moved to Cincinnati in 2006 to earn his Master’s degree at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. Before he was even settled, he began to explore the area’s Jazz scene and discovered the rich heritage of The Greenwich Tavern. Within weeks of his introduction, Baker organized a weekly residency at the club, essentially a regular jam session that attracted players from across the scene’s broad spectrum. The Tuesday jams at The Greenwich lasted more than a year before Baker decided to try new things.
“It was awesome and it taught me a lot,” he says. “I was lucky and met a lot of great people. Kenny, the bartender at The Greenwich, is one of my favorite people in Cincinnati. And he loves Jazz so it’s fun to geek out with him.”
Baker assembled The Collaboration last year and has worked diligently to raise his profile in the Jazz community while maintaining a consistent schedule with Justice and his numerous other gigs. The Collaboration’s sound is certainly Jazz-based but incorporates an eclectic array of additional influences that relate to Baker’s musical likes and experiences.
“I think it comes from the different groups I’ve played with,” he says of the dynamic. “When I lived in Indianapolis, I played in a Hip Hop band. I’ve played guitar in Rock bands, so I’ve learned Slash’s solos and Jimmy Page’s solos. I’ve played with Latin bands and I’ve played traditional Jewish music at bar mitzvahs. I’ve played in orchestras, wind ensembles, Reggae bands.
"Jazz to me isn’t a specific style as much as it’s a feeling and a concept. You can apply the Jazz language to almost anything. The Blues isn’t necessarily three chords and the truth. The Blues can be whatever you make it. Jazz is the same way. You always have to be pushing forward to find new things. I’ve been experimenting with effects pedals and there’s more of that stuff coming. It’s all about making my mark.”
Baker recorded The Collaboration at Mount Lookout club The Redmoor back in August and released the performance on a six-song disc that he sells at shows. As pleased as he is with the disc, he has bigger release plans in mind.
“I’d like to get a studio recording done, and I think I’m going to start recording in December,” he says of his forthcoming sessions.
Baker says the recordings will feature the instrumental prowess of pianist Steve Schmidt, bassists Nathaniel Andrew and Mike Scharfe, drummer Jeremy Cunningham (former Cincinnatian now working in Chicago) and saxophonist Ben Walkenhauer, plus a friend from Denver, Ayo Awosika (“She’s a phenomenal singer and she’s gorgeous,” Baker says).
He's clearly committed to all of his musical endeavors around town, but his primary focus is on his Jazz work within and ultimately beyond The Collaboration. He reiterates his gratitude over his CEA nomination and how fortunate he feels to have been considered. He knows he now has to capitalize on the publicity that was generated by it.
“It’s nice to have on the résumé and then maybe next year people will remember me more,” Baker says. “It’s just nice to help get my name out. Now I’m not just some young punk, I’m Wade the young punk.”
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