Trailer for Beware of Mr. Baker, (2012) a documentary by Jay Bulger.
Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker, drummer extraordinaire, best known as a member of the British trio Cream, died Sunday. He was 80.
According to the AP story, Baker’s family made the announcement on Twitter: “We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning.”
In a statement Sunday, his daughter Nettie Baker said he suffered “from many long term conditions” notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
With a powerful, explosive drumming style that apparently matched his temperament — the fascinating documentary about the drummer by Jay Bulger was titled “Beware of Mr. Baker” — he became a reference for rock drummers of nearly every stripe. But while African drumming was a substantial influence in Baker’s music and drumming style, jazz was his first love.
In fact, despite being considered by many as the forefathers of heavy metal, Cream, which also featured Eric Clapton on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass, was often closer to an Avant – jazz/blues trio than a rock band. One does not need to go much deeper than Cream’s epic live version of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” in the group’s final album, Goodbye, to hear how their approach to improvisation, open-ended treatment of the blues, and instrumental brilliance fits into the jazz tradition.
Baker and Bruce might have had a horribly contentious relationship — but they shared a passion for jazz. Years later, in his autobiography, Bruce, who died in 2014, suggested that at least two-thirds of Cream thought of it as a jazz trio — then adding, jokingly, one would hope, that they just wouldn’t tell Clapton about it.
Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993
While not the edited version in Goodbye, this Cream’s performance of “I’m So Glad” gives a fair idea of the trio’s approach. Imagine Clapton’s part on, say, alto sax.
A quote by Baker cited in the AP story might settle the argument.
“Oh for god’s sake, I’ve never played rock,” Baker told the blog JazzWax in 2013. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running. Jack and I had been in jazz bands for years. All that stuff I did on the drums in Cream didn’t come from drugs, either. It was from me. It was jazz.”
Baker’s musical life after Cream and the stillborn supergroup Blind Faith, with Clapton and Stevie Winwood, offers a road map of his interests. It included the short-lived, African-tinged large band Ginger Baker´s Air Force; a recording with Fela Kuti and his Africa 70 (Baker moved to Nigeria for a while and opened a recording studio); releases featuring African musicians (Palanquin’s Pole, African Force) and collaborations with Bill Laswell (Middle Passage, Horses and Trees ). And of course, Baker got to stretch out his jazz muscles in albums such as Going Back Home and Falling off the Roof, with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell; Unseen Rain with bassist Jonas Hellborg and pianist Jens Johansson; Coward of the Country, with trumpeter Ron Miles and the ever-shifting Denver Jazz Quintet to Octet, and Why?, leading a group featuring saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis.