An Interview with Vibraphonist Jalen Baker

Jalen Baker, jazz vibraphonist and percussionist, gave an outstanding performance at Live Music Movement Foundation’s “Live Performances in Unusual Spaces” event on January 26, 2020 at Notsuoh. He also has the distinction of being the first artist to debut LMMF’s “New Artist Series” for 2020.

Jalen became acquainted with Live Music Foundation when he and LMMF’s Founder Kathy Drayton met at an event where he was performing and the rest is history.

Born in Washington DC, then raised in Houston, Texas, Jalen decided he wanted to pursue music professionally as a teen and has never looked back. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Studies from Columbia College in Chicago and his Master of Music in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. Jalen has been featured at the Notre Dame, Elmhurst, and Arcevia jazz festivals, performed with the Jarrard Harris and Dod Kalm Quartets, and had the honor of being chosen by the Chicago Jazz Institute to be a member of the Chicago Next Gen Allstars. He established the band Musiki Tano that played several venues in Georgia and Northern Florida. Jalen also recently performed with the Savannah Jazz Orchestra.

LMMF was able to catch up with Jalen after the event and get some additional details about his music and what he’ll be doing in the future.

LMMF: Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

JB: Some of the musicians that I admire most are Stefon Harris, Ambrose Akinmusire, Warren Wolf, Walter Smith, Kendrick Scott, and Ulysses Owens just to name a few. The reason why I enjoy these musicians so much is because they all seem to have found their own voice on their respective instruments which can be a tough thing to do with so many great musicians in the world. Also, everyone that I look up to has an incredible work ethic that is second to none and I aspire to be like that.

LMMF: What is one of your fondest musical memory?

JB: About four years ago, I was able to play a gig at Houston’s Cafe 4212 with two of my best friends Jalon Archie and Paul Cornish. This particular performance sticks out for me because I have always looked up to Paul and Jalon musically and getting the chance to play with them outside of school sort of validated my hard work.

LMMF: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue music professionally?

JB: I think I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue music. The thing that was tricky for me was what type of music. I’d say around my junior year of high school while taking lessons with Chase Jordan I pretty much knew that I wanted to play Jazz.

LMMF: What will you be doing as far as music is concerned in a year? Five years?

JB: This year I’m planning on recording my first album and seeing what comes of that. In five years, I’m not really sure. I try not to think that far forward and just concentrate on what I can control during the here and now.

LMMF: Why is music important to you?

JB: Music has pretty much given me everything. Education, friends, family, money, and most importantly joy. I’m at my happiest when I’m playing and creating and I hope that comes across in my music. 

LMMF: The first tune you played at Notsuoh was a very interesting arrangement of a famous tune recognized by a guest. Would you give the name of the tune and something on how/why the arrangement?

JB: That was actually an original of mine called “’Twas” but it definitely resembles some other classic Jazz pieces like Bobby Timmons “Dat Dere.”

LMMF: A favorite tune of the performance was your original composition of Obey/Disobey. Would you recount the story behind it?

JB: So that tune came about when a professor of mine, Dr. Cliff Madsen, challenged the class with the question of would we obey an unjust Law. On the surface this seemed like a very easy question to answer but as I thought more and more about it I realized that it wasn’t. I began thinking about things such as the American civil rights movement and how so many African Americans had to live in a world where they either obeyed the laws that were created to keep them down or die. Everybody lives with a different set of circumstances so people with families and other lofty emotional obligations might not be as able to be on the front lines of fighting oppression because of the terrible consequences that come with that. In my opinion, it takes just as much bravery, courage, and maturity to step back and allow your brothers and sisters who might be better equipped for a specific situation to lead while you support from the background with whatever they need you to do. Everybody plays a role and every role is important. 

LMMF: Jazz has been noted as the music of protest and of life. Obey/Disobey fits in nicely with those thoughts. We are excited to know that you plan to record your first album by the end of 2020 as it will allow many more people to experience your contribution to jazz music.

Additionally, Jalen shared that “The Live Music Movement Foundation is a great organization that is very much needed in the city of Houston and we all need to try our best to come together to help grow the live music scene in Houston.”  Thank you, Jalen.

We hope to see you at our next live music event to experience the talent of outstanding musicians in the Houston area. Please sign up for updates from Live Music Movement Foundation and get involved.