Ginger Baker is Back
Few names in the history of modern music carry as much weight. Ginger Baker's powerhouse
drumming helped bring Cream, rock and roll's first super group, to legendary status. Now, this amazing drummer is back. After
touring with his quartet, the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, the legendary drummer signed with Motema Music in 2014 to release
a brand new jazz album featuring members of the group.
Whether this artist is beating the skins for
a one-time gig at the Islington Academy in London in celebration of his 75th birthday or touring the U.S., Baker's not to
be missed. His birthday show bears the name "A Drummer's Tale," and features the drummer's friends and fellow musicians joining
him on stage to play the music of Cream, Blind Faith and more. Ginger Baker is also scheduled to appear in New York City.
Ginger Baker is known for an eccentricity worthy of any rock and roll legend. This is probably best defined
by the title of the 2012 documentary film: Beware of Mr. Baker. The film's title is taken from a sign the drummer has
hanging outside his home. His character is as colorful and rich as his sound. One example of Baker's eccentricities has to
do with his instrument set up. Normally, the tom-toms on a drum kit are angled about 45 degrees toward the drummer to allow
a well-aimed strike of the stick. Ginger Baker has all of his drums facing upward with no angle, perpendicular to the drummer.
This allows him to smack the stick down hard.
Not content with merely keeping time, Baker uses his drums
the way a professional bandleader or arranger uses his orchestra. This comes from his diligent study of the great big band
drummers like Gene Krupa, and drummers of the Be-bop era like Art Blakey and Max Roach. Technical skill is combined with a
musician's ear to bring the drums up front, right alongside the guitar, horns, voice, whatever other element is contributing
to the music. And yes, Baker hits hard. This signature sound is no doubt influenced by the African drummers Baker was exposed
to in his youth, when friend and fellow drummer Phil Seaman played him some recordings of African tribesmen. Those recordings
also influenced Baker in his experiments with African time signatures in his later musical ventures.
After bouncing around the British blues scene for a while, Baker finally joined forces with the two musicians that would
help seal his fate in the history of rock and roll: Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton. Together, they were Cream. Their first album
together, 1966's Fresh Cream, featured the song "Toad," a five-minute tour-de-force for Baker. That song became a staple
of his live shows for years afterward. Cream only lasted a couple of years, but Baker's skills as a drummer solidified his
reputation among the music elite.
Fresh Cream may have put this artist on the map as a drummer
to watch out for, but it was 1967's Disraeli Gears that rocketed him, and Cream by extension, into the stratosphere.
After Cream disbanded, the drummer went on to record Ginger Baker's Air Force, a dynamic live album that featured a
10-piece band with Baker as its centerpiece.
Playing with cymbals used during his last two
tours with Cream, Baker continues to dazzle audiences with his singular style -- a cross between melodic lyricism and rhythmic
backbone. His jazz playing can also be subtle, as he often opens his jazz concerts with a swinging, subdued number. He'll
frequently kick off songs with a drum solo, much in the same way that Jimi Hendrix used to open songs with a freestyle improvisation,
then leading into the tune. It is this freestyle spirit, coupled with a certain rigid control over the dynamics of his instrument,
that makes Baker so well-suited to live performance jazz.