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IU Feature: Kindred spirits

Celebrated jazzmen Bunky Green and David Baker to reunite for pre-inaugural concert at IU Bloomington

Green, Bunky
Bunky Green

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's the story of three men linked by a love of music, a passion for teaching and the ability to inspire others.

Legendary jazz masters Vernice "Bunky" Green and David Baker, and Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert, haven't always traveled the same roads, and yet there is a strong bond that connects them. Each is, in his own right, a major player in educating and inspiring America's youth.

They will reunite at a free concert on Wednesday (April 14) to celebrate the next day's inauguration of Herbert as IU's 17th president. The pre-inaugural concert will begin at 8:30 p.m. at the IU Auditorium on the IU Bloomington campus.

"Like David Baker, Bunky Green is a legend in jazz performance and education. To have, performing on one stage, two of the most highly respected and gifted jazz luminaries, is an honor. I greatly look forward to this event," Herbert said.

"Dr. Adam Herbert is my role model," said Green, who is the director of Jazz Studies at the University of North Florida, where Herbert was president from 1989 to 1998.

"He's the type of person who really believes that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and that you just have to reach out and put yourself in line with a particular goal," Green continued.

Green has reaped the rewards of a lifetime of teaching and performing. A performer, educator, composer and arranger, he has released 14 albums, performed all over the world and played alongside some of the biggest names in jazz. He spent most of the 1970s and '80s at Chicago State University before leaving to take over the University of North Florida's Jazz Studies Department in 1989. He was cited in a 1995 Down Beat article recognizing the nation's leading jazz educators who are also respected players.

Green said it was Herbert who convinced him to stay in Florida after he had performed a concert there. "I just found him so inspiring," Green said. "He was also so friendly, and he's such a brilliant person. Everything I believe came right out of him when he talked. It was like I'd met a kindred spirit."

For longtime friends Green and Baker, who is the chair of IUB's Jazz Studies Department, the concert will mark the first time playing together in "probably 20 years," Baker said. Baker calls his Florida counterpart "one of the most underrated voices on alto (saxophone). Of course, musicians know about him because he's a phenomenal player. He's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet," Baker said.

Their friendship dates back to the 1960s, when they played many of the same towns and cities throughout the Midwest, especially Chicago and Indianapolis. Since then, Green and Baker have led strikingly parallel lives. Both men became brass masters (Green, the sax; Baker, the trombone). Both men decided to enter academia in the latter half of the '60s, at a time when it was highly unusual for a jazz performer to do so. Green began his institutional teaching career at Chicago's Wilbur Wright College before heading to Chicago State University; Baker established the Jazz Studies Department in Bloomington.

"A lot of jazz musicians felt that (by teaching) you were giving away secrets somehow," Baker said. "But the attitudes have changed now."

"David and I decided to do this (teach) when people were saying that it's really not the thing to do," Green said. "They'd say to us, 'What are you doing teaching? You're crazy.' But we saw it as another means by which to perpetuate the music and keep it moving on. Now when we hear our kids playing at such a high level, we just look at each other and say, 'Hey, we did this.'"

The symmetry between the two jazz masters has continued in recent years. Green served a term as president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, the world's largest jazz education organization; Baker is the current president of IAJE. Baker was inducted into the IAJE Hall of Fame in 1982; Green received the honor in 1999. Baker was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame for Jazz Education in 1994; Green joined the ranks last year.

"Our lives have been intertwined with love for many, many years," Green said.

Green said that both he and Baker consider themselves to be "perpetual students," and that IU's new president also fits that mold.

"(Herbert) has always had a respect for jazz, though it's his wife (Karen) who's really the big jazz fan. He loves music, but when we'd get together, we'd always get into other conversations that had to do with life and our goals, our students and my approach to teaching.

"He has a loving personality and is so easy to talk to. He's truly a Renaissance man," Green said.

For more information on the pre-inaugural concert or other inauguration events, go to http://www.indiana.edu/~pres/inauguration04/.

Event notice:

Free parking and shuttle service to and from the IU Auditorium will be offered for the Atwater Garage (located at the corner of Atwater and Faculty avenues) and the Poplars Garage (located at 6th and Dunn streets). Presenting the concert program to the garage attendant will allow you to exit the garage free of charge.

Free parking will also be available on the upper level of the Jordan Avenue Garage, located east of the IU Auditorium on Jordan Avenue between 3rd and 7th Streets, to anyone who has a program from the concert. Shuttle service will not be available at this garage.