Kenny Baker, MBE - trumpet player and world class jazz musician, 1921 - 1999.
While we have Kenny Baker, who needs Louis Armstrong?
- British Musicians' Union
Whilst I could never be described as being a great fan of jazz music, even I cannot fail to appreciate watching a true master at his work. I had the privilege of briefly meeting Kenny Baker, having heard him play at a jazz festival, a mere few months before his death. A gentle, kind and sincere man when he spoke, watching 78 year old Kenny play the trumpet so superbly was awesome indeed, and it was easy to believe that he had played alongside such greats as The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Born in Yorkshire, England on March 1, 1921, Kenny Baker was encouraged by his mother to play music from a very early age. Having started on the piano, he quickly moved on to a variety of instuments, and was playing the cornet by the age of ten. His skills were honed playing for the West Hull Silver Band and by the time he moved down to London in the late 1930s he was a very accomplished musician capable of playing section or solo in any jazz or dance band.
He found success quickly, his first professional job was with Sandy Powell's Concert Party in 1939, and then with Lew Stone's Orchestra at the Palace Theatre, London. The war years saw Kenny making big band dance music with the RAF Fighter Command band, and also making recordings with a number of other popular bands. After demobilisation he joined the Ted Heath Orchestra as trumpet solo, and also did an enormous amount of freelance work both at home and abroad. By April 1952 he was working regularly for BBC radio in the programme Let's Settle for Music, as frontman with his own jazz band, Baker's Dozen, playing a broad spectrum of jazz music from the likes of Louis Armstrong, Don Redman, Red Nichols and Bix Beiderbecke.
Throughout the sixties this popular and talented musician was in great demand for the making of film soundtracks, as a backing musician and on television programmes. He continued to tour with bands during the 70s and made the trumpet soundtrack to the extremely popular British TV series The Beiderbecke Tapes, The Beiderbecke Affair and The Beiderbecke Connection, in the 80s. The 1990s saw him reforming The Baker's Dozen and selling out Ronnie Scott's during a highly successful UK tour. Kenny was also chosen to be the lead trumpet player in the digital remake of all the music by the renowned Louis Armstrong - a wonderful showcase for his brilliance.
Kenny Baker was delighting audiences with his fine playing up until a few weeks before his unexpected death. Kenny died in Chichester, on 7 December 1999, of viral pneumonia.
One of the true greats, playing at the top of his profession for over 60 years, what better tribute to the man than that from playwright Alan Plater (creator of the Beiderbecke series):
...working with Kenny really was the most fun I've ever had while being paid for it. The news of his death was devastating because I thought he was immortal. I still do.