The Beat Goes On for Veteran Cream Drummer and His Students

Appleford writes regularly about music for Westside/Valley Calendar.

Ginger Baker may not be "a man of words," as he says himself. But it's unlikely that the students now enrolled in the Ginger Baker Drum School were attracted by the veteran musician's debating skills.

It's enough that in 1966 he joined guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce in Cream, the pioneering British blues-rock trio that was nominated this year for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And then there was the short-lived Blind Faith super group with Clapton and singer-keyboardist Steve Winwood in 1969, followed by years of experimentation in jazz, rock, blues and world beat music.

"I'm basically self-taught," Baker said. "But I had a lot of help from some really good drummers, who gave me a lot of advice."

In Baker's student days as a teen-ager in London, jazz player Phil Seaman--whom Baker calls "probably the greatest European drummer ever"--and other musicians helped him. Now he is passing along his knowledge at his weekly drumming school at the Trancas club in Malibu.

The Tuesday-night classes, for beginners, intermediate and advanced students, have been offered only in the last few months. Baker had conducted similar courses, available at a variety of ability levels, while living in a small Italian village in the early 1980s. But, the drummer said, his chief inspiration came through teaching his own son, now 22 and until recently a member of the late Steve Marriott's band.

Baker's career as a musician began in late 1956, he said, when his musical interest was strictly jazz. "But as most people discover, jazz isn't a way to earn your living," Baker added. "We jazz players decided to become more commercial and get involved with blues players. The effect we had on each other was how the music evolved."

By 1962, Baker was injecting a rhythm and blues flavor into his playing as part of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. He had replaced drummer Charlie Watts, who left the band to form the Rolling Stones with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. A variety of other bands would follow, including Baker's own group, Air Force, in the early 1970s.

Most of the last two decades, though, have been spent playing alongside a variety of noted musicians in several genres. An early booster of what had yet to be named "world beat" music, Baker has performed and recorded with outspoken Nigerian artist Fela Kuti and eventually established his own studio in Lagos, Nigeria, where Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" album was recorded.

More recently, Baker toured Israel for 10 days in August with former Cream collaborator Bruce. And he's since played a jazz festival in Japan with bassist Bill Laswell, keyboardist Anton Fier and Foday Musa Suso, who plays the violin and the kora, a West African stringed instrument.

Most surprising, even to Baker, was his joining the Masters of Reality, a young hard-rock act discovered by producer Rick Rubin. "It was suggested I have a jam with them, and I wasn't at all keen," Baker said, explaining that the band's recent debut album had left him unmoved. "But my wife sort of pushed me . . . and I was really impressed."

Baker said he and the band are finishing the next Masters of Reality album, "Sunrise on the Suffer Bus," due for release early next year by Delicious Vinyl Records. But he isn't yet interested in spending long periods on the road for a concert tour.

"I don't want to do any long-drawn-out tours," said Baker, who now lives on a 25-acre ranch in Agua Dulce. "I'll go out for a couple of weeks and that's it; then a month off. Otherwise it gets in the way of my polo."

Still, Baker could easily find himself in New York this January in the likely event that Cream is voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also among the 15 nominees are David Bowie, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Buffalo Springfield. Winners will be announced Monday.

"I think what we did was something exceptional," Baker said of Cream. "But I remember in 1968, Rolling Stone did an incredible put-down of Cream. The gist of the article was: Will Cream's music stand the test of time? And their conclusion was that it wouldn't. Well, here we are 25 years later, and the records are still selling."

The Ginger Baker Drum School is offered Tuesday nights at the Trancas, 30765 Pacific Coast Highway, in Malibu. Cost for four lessons: $120 for beginners, $160 intermediate and $200 for advanced. For information, call (805) 268-1766.

OPERA CONCERT: Members of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Company will be among five singers of "On the Way Up," a Nov. 19 performers' showcase co-sponsored by the Opera Buffs and the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. The program will spotlight a variety of familiar and unfamiliar works by composers such as Berlioz, Handel, Lee Hoiby, Offenbach and Stravinsky.

"The music is really delightful, but at least half of it is very unusual, " said Rena Cohen, president of the Opera Buffs, a local opera support group. "There are a lot of good dramatic things in the show that people will know. In addition, there are things that people don't know. This Stravinsky music is beautiful, but maybe something that people haven't heard before."

The concert is directed by Mona Lands, and will feature LAMCO singers Richard Bernstein, Greg Fedderly and Jennifer Smith. Also set to perform are Allison England and Ellen Rabiner.

The event marks the first time that the Opera Buffs has organized its own performers' showcase. The church, which holds 500 people, invited the group to participate in its own extensive music schedule.

"On the Way Up" begins at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard. Tickets are $10. Parking is free. For more information, call (818) 799-4763.

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