Ginger Baker Comes to Town
Legendary drummer for Cream and Blind Faith now playing jazz.
With a resume that includes seminal 60s rock supergroups Cream and Blind Faith (which also included Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood), it might be easy to overlook the huge impact jazz and African music has had on legendary drummer Ginger Baker. Baker is still known today for his work with those supergroups, and his innovative drumming style set a high benchmark for many rock musicians then and to this day.
But before that success (and even afterwards), Baker played in relatively humbler settings as a jazz drummer. That’s how he cut his teeth as a drummer and developed his style. He found inspiration in jazz drummers like Art Blakey, Max Roach and Elvin Jones. In later years, playing Afrobeat (African-based with jazz elements) music with the likes of Fela Kuti also influenced his playing.
So it’s little surprise that when Baker got a chance to play those styles again with a new group – thanks to some orchestrating by one of his touring roadies – he jumped at the opportunity. Even at 74, his desire is to play as long as he can. That new group, Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, also includes saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth and Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo. Next week they will release Baker’s first album in 16 years, with a new album simply titled “Why?” It was the result of an impromptu session, where the musicians quickly found common ground and inspiration. Together they brought compositions from Baker, Ellis and others vibrantly to life.
Prior to his band’s show at Turner Hall Ballroom Thursday night, Baker answered some questions via e-mail about his new band.
What originally got you interested in jazz?
At school we all used to listen to jazz, go down to jazz clubs and hang out; it was just the music of the time. The equivalent to whatever is in the charts today.
African music was another element you incorporated. How do you think it affected your drumming?
The biggest takeaway I had in Africa was Fish & Chips. I didn’t think about it the difference, it was just natural. You absorb what you listen to.
Why do you think you were able to transition from jazz drumming to rock drumming fairly easily?
I just play the music.
Absolutely no difference at all. Good music is good music.
Some might know you more for rock music. Do you like being able to introduce those fans to an unfamiliar style like African Jazz?
African Jazz has been around for 50 years there’s nothing new about it. I just like it so I play it.
Do you like playing smaller venues or larger ones more?
They’re all the same for me, as long as people are there I’ll play.
This is your first album in 16 years. Did the formation of Jazz Confusion help persuade you to return to the studio?
Well I wouldn’t have been able to make it without the band so yeah, the opportunity came up and we took it.
What about this band’s chemistry really impresses you so far?
They’re just really great musicians.
When you recorded the new album, did the songs come together quickly or take some tinkering to get them right? Did you record them live together in a room or separately and then pieced together later?
The album was recorded in two days, all live in one room together.
The album is split between songs you and Pee Wee Ellis wrote, and some other favorites. Was it important to have this kind of balance?
It’s not important, it just happened that way and works.
There’s quite a bit of improvising in jazz; how does that come into play with drumming?
Jazz is improvisation, we play by listening to each other, it changes every night.
Do you have any favorite memories playing Milwaukee? Or anything you’re looking forward to this time?
Not yet but hopefully, it’s a fucking great band.
Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion play Turner Hall Ballroom on June 19 at 6:30PM .