A musician who followed his heart

2010-03-29 00:00

BRUCE Baker has the voice of an accountant, but the heart of a musician. Which is why he became a drummer — today, one of South ­Africa’s finest.

Having grown up in Pietermaritzburg, Baker ­finished his matric through Maritzburg College, his BCom accounting degree through Unisa, his articles through Pietermaritzburg accounting firm Marwick, Gould and Ash, and then ... he became a professional musician.

“At the end of my articles, I joined a rock band and that was it,” he explains.

Earning half of what he would have as an ­accountant — a point Baker had never considered­ ­until I asked him — he spent the next three years drumming for the instrumental band Landscape Prayers. At the same time, Baker joined the ­widely popular rock band Squeal. Then in 1998, he moved to Durban and began playing with jazz ­musicians such as Melvin Peters, Feya Faku and ­Darius Brubeck. By the end of 2000, Baker had largely left the rock scene behind him. Taking a job as a ­lecturer in jazz drumming at the University of ­KwaZulu-Natal, while continuing to freelance with a wide range of musicians, Baker soon became a world-class jazz drummer.

“I give 100% to whatever style I am playing. But in the jazz context you can do more and you can ­express yourself more. In the pop music setting you have to stick within the confines of a song. With jazz you can push the boundaries and be expressive.”

Having grown up in a home where his father sang, played the guitar and taught himself the piano, Baker was always encouraged to pursue music. His first band was with his father, and his mother wholeheartedly supported his decision to go professional — ­providing he had an accounting degree first. “That has its pros and cons,” he explains. “The pro is that it is a backup if you need it. The con is that if you know there is a backup it can undermine your efforts. If there is only one option, you doubt yourself as a musician less.”

And, others doubt you less too. Having grown up in a middle-class white home, with a good matric, from a quality school, and an enviable degree, many people must have surely opposed Baker’s career choice. “Not directly, but people do have a tendency to frown upon it and to think that I could have done ­something better with my life.”

Baker puts this down to South ­African culture: “Other cultures, like in Mozambique and Europe, place a higher value on music. They don’t just listen to what is fed them from the radio. They educate themselves and they know more about ­different types of music. I do wish more South Africans were into ­music.”

But ultimately it is Baker’s inner drive that keeps him going. Drumming is what he wants to do, ­drumming is what he has to do. People will compliment him and people will discourage him, but he will keep on drumming. “There’s a big difference ­between being a rock star and being a professional musician. A rock star is superficial, but a musician understands music. He loves his instrument, he wants to play it, he wants to practise and he’s not after the fame. If I was left on a deserted island and given an instrument — that would also be fine. I love music. It’s music first and drumming second.”

And does anything come in third? “Umm, life has been upside down lately. There is no time for anything else. I love to spend time with my two daughters. I like to read. And I listen to music.” (But he couldn’t explain to me what music, because true to his prediction, I grew up on radio food.)

“But if you could no longer drum,” I ask, “what would you do?”

“Do you mean if I couldn’t play any instruments?” he blurts out in a nonaccountant tone.

“Yes.”

There is a long silence. “Hello, Bruce?”

“Yes, I am still here. Hmmm. Well, I wouldn’t be an accountant. Umm, or an engineer.”

There is another long pause.

Eventually, we change the subject.

THE Bruce Baker Quartet is playing at 7 pm on April 4 in room A1 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg. The ­quartet features Bruce Baker (drums), Melvin Peters (piano), Logan Byrne (double bass) and ­Debbie Mari (vocals). Tickets are R40 and can be purchased through Sam at 083 257 9059 or 033 386 8009.

Bruce Baker has the voice of an accountant, but the heart of a musician. Which is why he became a drummer - today, one of South Africa’s finest.

Having grown up in Pietermaritzburg, Baker finished his matric through Maritzburg College, his BCom Accounting degree through UNISA, his articles through PMB accounting firm Marwick, Gould and Ash, and then ... he became a professional musician. “At the end of my articles, I joined a rock band and that was it,” he explains.

Earning half of what he would have as an accountant – a point Baker had never considered until I asked him – he spent the next three years drumming for the instrumental band, Landscape Prayers. At the same time, Baker also joined the widely populiar rock band, Squeal. Then in 1998, he moved to Durban and began playing with jazz musicians like Melvin Peters, Feya Faku and Darius Brubeck. By the end of 2000 Baker had largely left the rock scene behind him. Taking a job as a lecturer in Jazz Drumming at the University of Kwa-zulu Natal, whilst continuing to free-lance with a wide range of musicians, Baker soon became a world-class jazz drummer.

“I give 100% to whatever style I am playing. But in the jazz context you can do more and you can express yourself more. In the pop music setting you have to stick within the confines of a song. With jazz you can push the boundaries and be expressive.”

Having grown up in a home where his father sang, played the guitar and taught himself the piano, Baker was always encouraged to pursue music. His first band was with his father, and his mother wholeheartedly supported his decision to go professional - providing he had an accounting degree first. “That has its pros and cons,” he explains. “The pro is that it is a back up if you need it. The con is that if you know there is a back up it can undermine your efforts. If there is only one option, you doubt yourself as a musician less.”

And, others doubt you less too. Having grown up in a middle-class white home, with a good matric, from a quality school, and an enviable degree, many people must have surely opposed Baker’s career choice? “Not directly, but people do have a tendency to frown upon it; to think that I could have done something better with my life.”

Baker puts this down to South African culture: “Other cultures, like in Mozambique and Europe, place a higher value on music. They don’t just listen to what is fed them from the radio. They educate themselves; they know more about different types of music. I do wish more South Africans were into music.”

But ultimately it is Baker’s inner drive that keeps him going. Drumming is what he wants to do, drumming is what he has to do. People will compliment him and people will discourage him, but he will keep on drumming. “There’s a big difference between being a rock star and being a professional musician. A rock star is superficial, but a musician understands music. He loves his instrument, he wants to play it, he wants to practice and he’s not after the fame. If I was left on a deserted island and given an instrument - that would also be fine. I love music. It’s music first and drumming second.”

And does anything come in third? “Umm, life has been upside down lately. There is no time for anything else. I love to spend time with my two daughters. I like to read. And I listen to music.” (But he couldn’t explain to me what music, because true to his prediction, I grew up on radio food.)

“But if you could no longer drum,” I ask, “what would you do?”

“Do you mean if I couldn’t play any instruments?” he blurts out in a non-accountant tone. “Yes.”

There is a long silence. “Hello, Bruce?”

“Yes, I am still here.Hmmm. Well, I wouldn’t be an accountant. Umm, or an engineer.”

There is another long pause.

Eventually, we change the subject.

• (The Bruce Baker Quartet is playing at 7pm on the 4th of April in room A1 at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg. The Quartet features Bruce Baker on drums, Melvin Peters on piano, Logan Byrne on double bass and Debbie Mari on vocals. Tickets are R40 and can be purchased through Sam on 0832579059 or 033-3868009. )

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