Their three-hour sets would be tribute to the music that Baker heard as a young girl growing up in the city’s Fillmore District, the scene of several nightclubs that housed black entertainers on the “chitlin circuit” when they came through the city.
She was too young to be allowed inside these clubs, but the music was all around, and Baker soaked it in. Her mother owned a cleaning shop near the Fillmore Street entertainment district. “I used to skate down the street to the soda fountains, where they played race music on the juke boxes,” she recalls in a statement. “I would pass the nightclubs and see who was appearing that week at Jimbo’s, the California Hotel, the famous after-hours club Bop City, the below street-level Blackshire, the Eddy Hotel, The Primelone Ballroom, which was a skating rink during the day, and the Fillmore Auditorium.”
When she was older, Baker started going to the famous Blackhawk, where she saw Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis.
She went on to become a San Francisco school administrator and singer.
On her new CD, Live at Rasselas, Baker covers 20 songs that were part of that rich musical legacy and her own personal history. The album is loving nod to that era and to the Fillmore neighborhood.
Located across from the legendary Fillmore Auditorium, Rasselas is part of the new crop of jazz clubs in the area.
Baker performs several Louis Jordan numbers, including “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” and “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” The fourth Jordan song is “Early In The Morning,” which proves the perfect match for Baker’s relaxed, bluesy voice. She gets good help from Don Ramsey on the saxophone.
The Nat King Cole Trio is represented by a pair of songs, “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” and “Route 66.”
Baker also pays tribute to Duke Ellington, another important figure during this period, with the inclusion of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “I Got It Bad And That’s Ain’t Good.”
Billie Holiday is represented with “God Bless The Child.” Baker says she included this selection because it was heard everywhere in the Fillmore in the 1940s. John Mackay’s B3 organ provides just the right accompaniment on this and other songs.
Baker and her veteran band don’t try to reinvent the classic material they are performing. Instead, they strive to honor the songs, and they succeed. It’s a heart-felt tribute to the music they love.