Jack Bruce once said that he “lived in England and Ginger Baker lived in South Africa, but that wasn’t far enough!” After seeing the recent documentary about the notorious Cream drummer, Beware of Mr. Baker, I knew exactly what Bruce meant. So much so that I attended one of Baker’s recent sets at one of Manhattan’s premier jazz clubs, the Iridium, with some trepidation about actually being in the same room with him.
I managed to survive the experience along with the rest of the sold-out audience for the one-hour, Thursday night, 10:00 p.m. show. Apparently, others didn’t fare so well during Baker’s run of ten sets over five-nights (Wednesday through Sunday) at the club Les Paul made famous.
Travelling solo, I was seated at one of the community tables up front that run perpendicular to the stage. There I chatted with some of the other friendly music geeks at my table. Our waitress told us that during the early set Baker got a bit gnarly and dropped some “F-Bombs” at both the sound man and the noisy crowd. That in no way influenced the collective at my table who were unfortunately unable to contain their musical geekiness until after the show. These guys just couldn’t be quiet and listen, but instead they had to dissect and discuss the band’s playing throughout the show (e.g. “Do you see what he’s doing with his left foot?). Is what all jazz fans are like?
Baker eventually tossed out a few barbs about our chatty crowd. Thankfully, we managed to fare much better than those planning to see the final show on Sunday night. It seems that just a scant five minutes before show time, the club announced that Baker was not well and would be cancelling. The real story, however, could have been the unruly crowd during the early set. Baker reportedly scolded them more than once, and within 24 hours he was on stage again in Chicago.
Commenting about a jazz performance is not my thing; however, I found Baker’s quartet rich and rewarding to listen to. Obviously slowed down by arthritic pain, the 74-year old Baker had to be led both to and from the stage. Likewise, his drumming was perhaps more controlled and contained than in his prime. (There was no wild drum-soloing a la “Toad” here tonight.) I found Baker’s best moment to be when he did a stretch playing in tandem with his African percussion band mate. Otherwise, he led the group with a firm and steady rhythm through a tasty sampling of jazz sounds that this rocker’s ears thoroughly enjoyed. Legends have a way of attracting the best players, and Baker did just that with these guys.
Over the years I have missed seeing many of rock’s great legends perform live. I thank the Iridium for giving me the opportunity to see players like Baker “up close and personal.” But, thankfully, I didn’t have to get too close!
- Footprints (Wayne Shorter)
- Twelve and More Blues (Pee Wee Ellis)
- Ain Temouchant (Ginger Baker)
- Ginger Spice (Ron Miles) / [Ginger and the band then took a “nature break”]
- Cyril Davies (Ginger Baker)
- Aiko Biaye (Yoruba folk song from Lagos)
- Why (Ginger Baker)
Ginger Baker— Drums
Pee Wee Ellis—Tenor Saxophone
Abbas Dodoo—African Percussion