Jamie Baum: Jazz Diplomacy

For flutist Jamie Baum, the formula for what she calls a “complete musician” consists of three parts: performing, composing, and improvising. In her mind, these three activities combine in an organic way to create a rich, full musical life, and she does it all—and more—in spades. Since the 1990s, she has been composing music for her own ensemble, playing with top-notch musicians such as Paul Motian, Randy Brecker, and Fred Hersch, leading workshops on a number of topics including improvisation for classical musicians, and presenting her music to audiences around the globe.

Much of Baum’s work has been inspired by elements of 20th-century classical, Indian, and Afro-Latin music, worlds between which she nimbly moves as a performer. Her 2004 album Moving Forward Standing Still takes musical cues from Stravinsky, Ives, and Bartok, all composers who were important for her during her early composition training at the New England Conservatory. The music on her most recent release, In This Life, is deeply influenced by a tour through South Asia, and specifically by the music of Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In both cases she deftly weaves elements from diverse musical sources through her own prodigious artistic imagination to create compositions that sound highly distinct yet perfectly natural at the same time. Her ensemble, the Jamie Baum Septet, is comprised of flute, piano, trumpet, French horn, alto sax doubling bass clarinet, drums, and bass, and expands with the additions of guitar and hand percussion such as congas and tabla to form the Jamie Baum Septet +.

Baum says that one of her musical goals has always been to make the flute a primary ensemble instrument, rather than simply an instrument for doubling or a secondary textural element as it is sometimes viewed within a jazz music context. The somewhat unusual instrumentation of her group is intended to help give the flute more weight within the ensemble texture and to provide different musical coloring options than the standard grouping of trumpet, alto, tenor, and baritone sax or trombone. However, never having been one to save all the big soloing opportunities for the leader of the band, she is happy for the flute to become an inner voice and allow other instruments plenty of creative freedom when it comes time to solo. No doubt this sense of openness and her willingness to collaborate is part of what has kept the membership of her group stable for over 14 years.

In addition to a bustling composing and performing schedule, Baum also leads a variety of intriguing musical workshops centered upon improvisation and fostering creativity, including ones entitled “A fear-free approach to improvisation for the classically trained musician” and “Jazz flute technique is not an oxymoron,” intended to teach classical flute and double reed players techniques appropriate for jazz performance.

Through the practice of her own “complete musicianship” Baum has become an integral player in the jazz tradition, without becoming confined by it; she keeps her ears and mind open to whatever external influences might play a role in expanding her writing, performing, and composing.

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