Growing up in Jasper, Indiana, Wade Baker ’06 played in brass bands but was more enthusiastic about soccer. When he first came to the University of Indianapolis, he didn’t even plan to major in music. And when he finally declared that music major, he was leaning toward classical. What a difference a few years can make. Still just 25, the UIndy grad is now a rising figure on the Cincinnati music scene, performing several times a week, working with the city’s top players, and making a living at it.
Most notably, he plays trumpet as leader of the Wade Baker Jazz Collaboration, a sizable group of friends and veteran musicians whom Baker can call upon for gigs that range from traditional jazz to contemporary, pop-influenced sounds. He also plays bass in the Jon Justice Band, a blues-rock combo that takes him on the road throughout the eastern U.S. for weeks at a time. On other evenings, he might play trumpet in a big band or strum guitar for a coffeehouse
gig. He recently took on the drums to form a rock band, mostly for kicks, with fellow master’s degree candidates from the University of Cincinnati
College-Conservatory of Music. Baker’s work ethic has built him a solid regional reputation in a short period of time. Last year, Cincy Groove Magazine named him artist of the month for April. He later was nominated in the jazz category for a coveted Cincinnati Entertainment Award, a distinction that sparked a December profile in Cincinnati CityBeat newspaper.
“I was stoked that they even considered me,” Baker says of the unexpected honors. “I’ve only had a band for a year.”
The truth is that Baker began making a name for himself almost as soon as he arrived in Cincinnati for grad school. He credits his success to the influence and advice of the professors he met at UIndy, most notably Jazz Studies director Harry Miedema and former band director Thomas McCauley, now at
Montclair State University in New Jersey. Listening to their music collections turned Baker on to jazz, he says, and Miedema’s stories from decades as a professional saxophonist and bandleader inspired him to make his own way.
“I’m pretty much where I am today because of Harry and Dr. McCauley,” Baker says. “They gave me the darn jazz bug, and it bit me hard. I couldn’t walk away from it now if I wanted to.”
One lesson he learned from his UIndy mentors was that, if he wanted to be a professional performer, he shouldn’t wait for a diploma to get started. While still an undergrad, he began making the rounds of Indianapolis jazz clubs, even listening from outside before he turned 21. When he hit Cincinnati, he plunged into the live music scene, making friends at the top nightspots and always being sure to bring his horn along.
“Maybe I didn’t spend as much time as I should have on academics, but I know a lot of people who just focused on that, and they’re working at Starbucks now,” he says. “I get to play with some of the most amazing musicians in Cincinnati—plus, I get to hire my friends.”
But someday, Baker says only half-jokingly, he wouldn’t mind returning to UIndy and taking Miedema’s job. “I love that place,” he says. “I’d like to be able to help one person the way he helped me.”