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Roach's kind words don't seem that incongruous after you study Baker's playing. In reality his long, improvised solos and experimental work never fit into the rock pigeonhole. Still, Baker is resigned to his R&R legacy. "It's one thing I've had to live with, unfortunately," he says. "But it really annoys me. I was always a jazz player. Long before I ever played rock and roll, I was a jazz player." He laughs before adding, "Jazz is my first love."
Many jazz musicians recognize his skills, Baker asserts. "I've known Louie Bellson for years. But when he heard me play for the first time about two years ago, he rushed up and put his arms around me and gave me a kiss. I thought that was really sort of cool, you know. Because when he actually heard me play he realized that there was something there.
"I think the thing about jazz playing is that most jazz players are musicians," he goes on. "You've got to be a musician to play jazz. I studied basic harmony and I can write and read and I used to do a lot of big band scoring when I was younger, which I think is very important. That's the problem with most of the rock-and-roll people. You get Paul McCartney boasting in the press recently that he's such a good writer because he doesn't understand music, which is a load of absolute crap. It isn't an asset--but this is the sort of attitude you come across from a lot of guys in the rock-and-roll world. They can't read. They can't write. They have not a clue. They're musical morons, most of them. And they become quite successful and make lots of money. It's really quite surprising."
Now, does that sound rude and blunt to you?