Duck Baker is one of the most highly regarded fingerstyle guitarists of his generation. He is unique among jazz guitarists in that his repertoire spans the entire history of the music from ragtime through swing to modern masters like Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols to free improvisation. Baker’s devotion to American music also encompasses more traditional forms like blues, gospel, and Appalachian music and its Scots-Irish ancestry. This catholicism has been likened to Europeans who perform the classical repertoire from renaissance through to modern music.
Tablature/music is available as a PDF file for each lesson. Lessons are filmed with multiple cameras and consist of a performance, explanation, and conclude
with a slow tempo split screen that follows the tab/music.
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This tune was written by English hymnist William Henry Monk in the 19th century, though the words (by Henry Francis Lyte) have been set to other tunes, as well. It has been enormously popular ever since it first appeared, and it has been favored by guitarists, especially in recent years. This arrangement should not present major difficulties for intermediate players, though the right hand picking may take some getting used to.
This old popular song was written in 1917 by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley, and since the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded it that same year,
it has been a jazz standard for almost an entire century. Unlike most tunes recorded in the first decade or so of jazz history, "Indiana" never lost
its appeal for jazzers in the modern era, and it's chord sequence has been the basis for hundreds of contemporary tunes. This arrangement is in C,
and mostly based on first-position chord shapes
The history of this simple but amazingly effective swing-era number is complex, beginning as a song composed for a 1932 Yiddish comedy by Sholom Secunda
and lyricist Jacob Jacobs. A few years later Sammy Cahn heard the song and arranged to get the rights for an English version that became a meg-hit
for the Andrews Sisters in late 1937. Although it hasn't been played that often as a guitar solo it's a natural in A minor. It's hard NOT to swing
when you play this one!
One of the most achingly beautiful melodies by one of the most melodic of composers, "Blind Mary" was named for a contemporary of Carolan who was also
a harper and who shared his affliction. But that is the extent of our knowledge of Mary. The challenge of playing tunes like this is more to do with
expression than technique per se, though there are unusual features here, which are sure to interest students.
This is one of Monk's simplest tunes, and, like several of his compositions, it certainly has obvious antecedents ("Pastel Blue" by Charlie Shavers,
for one). "Blue Monk" is very popular for guitarists, owing to its simplicity. Some of the voicings here were learned from the great Dutch fingerpicker,
Ton Van Bergeyk, though Ton's arrangement is in A and this one is in E. Improvisational ideas are discussed and taught.
Up through the 1970s, this was the most often performed of all the 200-odd compositions we have from the legendary Irish harper, Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738),
and though it was changed very much over the years by the folk process, the version heard here is fairly standard. Carolan's tunes are very well suited
to the guitar but that is not to say that they are easy to play, as this demanding arrangement in drop-D makes very clear.
Here's a fairly easy arrangement of a song that has been popular with country music singers from Bill Monroe to Hank Williams to Ronnie Milsap. It has also been recorded by such African American performers as Mississippi John Hurt and Sam Cooke. Apart from the coda and the fact that the song is in 3/4 time, this is all standard-issue first-position picking that should present few problems for the student.
Though it was played more often than most Carolan tunes by traditional musicians, "Hewlett" was often simplified slightly, owing no doubt to its two-octave-plus
range. This arrangement of the tune (in G) retains the original range, but the real key to it is the way it depends on the middle voice, which almost
acts like a drone.
"I Got Rhythm" is one of George Gershwin's most famous songs, and certainly the most durable in jazz terms; it's harmonic progression has been used literally thousands of times and was greatly favored by early modern jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. It is also greatly loved by singers, from Ethel Mermen to Ella Fitzgerald and beyond. This version in C should introduce the intermediate picker to a few new ideas.
This well-known song probably originated as a 19th-century African American hymn. It became hugely popular in the 1930s, and soon was a standard for not just black gospel singers and congregations but in churches all over the US south. It has been performed in every style of country music, as well as by brass bands and, especially, New Orleans jazz musicians, who play it at funerals. This arrangement is not very difficult and depends very much on the useful trick of fretting with the thumb.
This quirky tune is not terribly complex by Monk's standards, but it is somewhat mysterious, seeming at the beginning to be in the key of F but then seeming
to finish in C. Like many of Monk's tunes, "Light Blue" is not so much difficult as strange and somewhat tricky, but it is actually a lot of fun to
play, and also a challenge to blow on.
This song was written for the 1929 Broadway musical Show Girl in 1929, and has proved one of George Gershwin's most durable standards. This arrangement
is in G, and it makes use of basic, 4-note swing chord shapes that are particularly useful for playing fingerstyle.
Lulu's Back in Town was one of those songs that found immediate popularity which has never really waned. Written by Harry Warren in 1935, with lyrics by
Al Dubin, the song was a hit that same year for the redoubtable Fats Waller, and also sung by Dick Powell in the Hollywood musical, Broadway Gondolier.
This infectious number has been popular with jazz/pop vocalists and jazz instrumentalists ever since, Mel Torme and Thelonious Monk having left us
particularly memorable versions. The guitar arrangement is in C, and seeks to evoke both Waller and Monk.
Here's one of Charlie Mingus's simpler tunes, which he recorded on his classic 1960 record, Blues and Roots. Mingus's recording depending on intertwining
a couple of contrapuntal melodies, but this version (in A) just uses one of them. John Renbourn used to have a second part worked out for this, in
fact. Whether it's played as a duo or a solo, "Mr. Jelly Roll Soul" is a real good-time tune, almost comical in feel.
This charming double-entendre number debuted as a song-and-dance routine in the 1930 film, Just Imagine (it's worth checking out the original performance, by Marjorie White and Frank Albertson, on youtube). Several popular dance bands covered it during that decade and then somehow Jim Kweskin got onto it in the 1960s - it was certainly perfect for his jug band, with Geoff Muldaur doing the vocals. But instrumentalists have unjustly neglected it, and more's the pity.
The harmonization of Carolan's music is a tricky proposition, not least because the composer's own harmonizations have not survived. The feeling is strong,
however, among many tradition musicians, that it is not a good idea to just harmonize the tunes using straight major and minor triads. This arrangement
of "Planxty Irwin" provides good examples of ways to work around this.
"Planxty Kelly" s one of Carolan's tunes that has gained currency in the last couple of decades, and all versions seem to come from one source, namely
the definitive study of Carolan by Donal O'Sullivan. The melody is striking for the way it uses the natural and flatted tones for both the sixth and
seventh notes in the scale, which presented an interesting challenge for the arrangement (in A minor).
The music to the this very popular song was composed in 1907 by Kerry Mills, who also wrote such celebrated ragtime songs as "Georgia Camp Meeting" and "Whistling Rufus." The melody of the verse is based of Schumanns' piano composition "The Happy Farmer, Returning From Work," though the chorus is quite different. It has been covered by countless singers, including John Wayne in three different movies, and has been adapted by bluegrass bands, traditional jazz bands, western swing outfits, and even fingerpicking guitarists.
This is Thelonious Monk's most famous tune, and one that many guitarists have tackled. Like most other versions, this one transposes the piece from Eb
minor to E minor, but does not include the introduction and coda which Dizzy Gillespie added to the tune. Certainly this is a very demanding arrangement
which seeks to utilize the kinds of dense voicings that Monk relied on and which are so important for getting the right flavor for his music.
Although "St. Thomas" is credited to tenor Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, it has a long history which some trace to Britain and some to Denmark. Rollins himself
learned it from his mother, who would have known it as a calypso song, "Fire Down Below." This one is a natural for fingerpickers, in Drop-D tuning
and generally evoking the style of the great Bahamian guitarist, Joseph Spence.
This well-loved swing anthem was written by Edgar Sampson, though two bandleaders who had hits with it, Chick Webb and Benny Goodman, also wound up sharing
composer credit. It was named after the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, a famous meeting place for the hippest dancers uptown. The tune lies well on the
guitar, in the key of C
Summertime is an even more famous Gershwin song, for which DuBose Heyward (author of the novel Porgy, on which Porgy and Bess was based) wrote the lyrics.
This Em arrangement aims for be both folky in feel and modern in terms of harmonization, and represents a departure from the alternating bass lines
we usually employ for swing jazz. Instead we use a repeating, vamp figure, which will hopefully broaden the student's understanding of the possibilities
for standards like this.
The standard "Sweet and Lovely" has an interesting history. It was written in 1931 by Charles N. Daniels and Harry Tobias and was a pretty big hit for
several performers, including Bing Crosby. It got a second lease on life when it was used in a film called "Two Girls and a Sailor," and Bing rerecorded
it. Modern jazzers have played it ever since, and this version in E is very much based on Thelonious Monk's unique re-casting of the progression, with
its chromatically descending chords.
Again we find a way to vary the approach vis-a-vis the bass line in this arrangement of the Billy Strayhorn tune that became the theme of the Duke Ellington
Orchestra. The idea here is to play the melody over a one-note repeated bass phrase that it highly syncopated. This creates some interesting challenges
for the student, even in the key of C!
"The Fairy Queen" is another Carolan composition which has gained currency in recent times. It seems to be related, both thematically and melodically,
to "Sheebeg and Sheemore," though this tune is in G and its more famous cousin is in D. Though not terribly difficult, "The Fairy Queen" does present
a problem that we encounter often enough, which is that the trickiest passages come at very dramatic moments, and therefore require extra attention.
Here is a simple but very attractive hymn that is fairly popular with southern US congregations. Though it has not been recorded all that often, it has found its way into several films, from Arsenic and Old Lace to The King And I to The Proposition. Working out of standard chord shapes in the key of G, the intermediate student should not find this one difficult to learn.
This tune was composed by Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), the great South African pianist whose music is equally informed by modern jazz and South
African traditional and popular music. "Tintiyana" is a good example; one can imagine such a melody in the hands of either Ladysmith Black Mambazo
or the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. We use Ibrahim's left-hand part as our bass line, but what really makes this arrangement challenging are the stretches
we need for fretting.
Although it is known as a Hoagy Carmichael song, the basic melody of "Up A Lazy Rive" was actually composed by clarinetist Sidney Arnandan, and Hoagy arranged
it and wrote the words. This is another C arrangement that depends on an alternating bass line, and in this case there is a variation that should challenge
students looking to expand their chops.
The words to this old favorite was written in 1855 by one Joseph M. Scriven, with the melody added some time later by Charles Crozat Converse. Though Converse's other hymn tunes are little remembered, it is interesting to note that he was also the author of a guitar method book in 1858, though that predated his composition of this melody. Nonetheless, the tune has been reasonably popular for fingerpickers, and this intermediate arrangement in C is fairly typical.
This well loved song was originally penned in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon, with music by Charles H. Gabriel, but the lyrics most people know were largely the work of A. P. Carter, of the Carter Family. Since the Carters' 1935 recording it has been covered by countless country singers, as well as such great African American gospel artists as Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson and the Staple Singers. This challenging arrangement in E shows how we can use middle voicings to imply the kind of harmonies used by hard gospel singers.