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Artist Profiles

Duck Baker: Spinning Song

By Published: August 15, 2007
Born out of that early correspondence between piano and guitar was a passion that continues to this day, culminating with his twin interests in capturing the composing and playing styles of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols on guitar. All this will be embraced at The Stone. After all, it was Zorn who originally encouraged him to arrange Nichols' music for guitar, the result an extremely well-regarded recording called Spinning Song: Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols (Avant, 1996), which Zorn produced.

Wrestling with Nichols was even more demanding than trying to adapt Monk for guitar, though both presented challenges. "I had always wondered why jazz musicians never played any Herbie Nichols tunes, except for 'Lady Sings The Blues.' But as soon as I got hold of some charts and started working on it I found out right quick why they weren't playing him.

Duck "Monk is more spare and Nichols tends to use richer kinds of chords that are harder to imitate on the guitar. Monk, once you've figured out what it is, it's not as much of a stretch to find a way to play it on guitar. Sometimes Monk is only using three notes, which is about what you'd normally do playing finger-style guitar...playing three or four notes.

"The other thing is that Monk's progressions generally speaking don't deviate so far from swing and standard progressions. Sometimes they go into really deep things and very strange things and you're not even sure what key things are in, but the majority of his tunes don't do really weird things whereas the majority of Nichols' tunes do. And with Nichols, just the chord progressions themselves, even for tunes that he wrote back in the 1940s, are challenging in the extreme.

Got that?

Maybe you did. But the rest of us may have to be content to sample the results of Baker's explorations when he reveals his Monkish tendencies (Aug. 4), as well as his strenuous and sensitive tackling of Nichols' music in a solo guitar performance (Aug. 10).

Selected Discography

Duck Baker, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans (Day Job, 2005)

Duck Baker, Spinning Song: Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols (Avant, 1996)

Duck Baker, Art of Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar (Kicking Mule-Shanachie, 1980)

Duck Baker, The King of Bongo Bong (Kicking Mule, 1979)

Eugene Chadbourne, Guitar Trios (Parachute, 1977)

Duck Baker, There's Something for Everyone in America (Kicking Mule, 1976)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Duck Baker

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