Meet saxophone prodigy Chase Baird
August 24, 2010
Chase Baird found out who the Beatles were during his junior year in high school. He didn’t know what Nirvana sounded like until last January. While his knowledge of musical icons may seem unusual for a 22-year-old, he is purely a product of his environment.
"I came to music from such an odd perspective," he says. "I was embarrassed about it at first, but I’ve had to own that."
An accomplished jazz saxophonist, Baird recently released his debut CD, "Crosscurrent," with a group of other musicians. He currently lives in Park City and is scheduled to perform at the Park Silly Sunday Market on Aug. 29 at 10 a.m.
Baird was born in Seattle and exposed to creative musicianship at an early age. His father was a trumpet player who dabbled in rock bands and owned an eclectic collection of instruments. "He was kind of the miscellaneous musician," he says.
The family moved to Salt Lake City in 1996, where, at age 10, Baird learned to play saxophone. At first, he says, he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but his father was hesitant to let him practice on his expensive trumpet. "He had a Bach Stradivarius trumpet and he had a student-model alto sax, so that’s what I got to learn on," Baird says.
His proclivity towards jazz came naturally. "There was always jazz in my house growing up," he says. "My dad loved John Coltrane and Miles Davis." He recalls his mother playing a jazz compilation CD every morning, inculcating the tunes into his psyche.
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In seventh grade, Baird was one of the youngest students to make the cut in his middle school jazz band. "That experience opened a lot of doors," he says. "Before that, I had only played by myself. I started to see the magic of what music could become."
At the end of the school year, he had the opportunity to watch the jazz band from Brigham Young University perform. "It just blew my mind," he says. He went home and asked his dad how people got that good, and his dad replied that they practice for three to four hours per day. So that’s what Baird did. He learned to play his favorite tunes note for note by ear and steadily watched his dedication pay off.
At age 14, Baird’s parents sent a recording of him playing to famed saxophonist Michael Brecker, one of the young prodigy’s favorite musicians and greatest influences. Brecker soon called his house and told Baird he’d like to meet him in person.
"It was kind of a trip," he says. "To me, he was the biggest thing since I don’t know what." Baird met Brecker at a concert in Salt Lake City in 2003, not long before the musician was diagnosed with leukemia. "We just hung out and talked about music," he says.
It was around that time that Baird began to play at jazz festivals and started generating buzz as a promising up-and-coming saxophonist in the jazz world. In 2002, he was chosen as outstanding student tenor sax player at Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.
At 16, he moved to San Francisco and joined the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Star High School Big Band, which played at a number of festivals throughout Japan and at venues on the East and West coasts of the U.S. Baird was selected by the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (NFAA) to be part of its prestigious Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship.
Despite being poised to enter the ranks of performing jazz musicians, Baird started struggling with the idea of being a artist around the time he graduated from high school. He decided it was a wiser decision to shift toward a more mainstream career path with music on the side.
He enrolled at a community college and later at California State University, Long Beach to study psychology and took a hiatus from playing and performing. "I felt like I had stepped off that path, like I was on a tangent," he says.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that his heart wasn’t in the right place. He knew he was destined to be a musician. "There was no other option," he says.
Baird returned to Utah last summer and settled in Park City with the intention to save money to relocate to New York City. In January, he gathered a group of musicians from various phases of his life to record "Crosscurrent."
The album features pianist/keyboardist Julian Waterfall Pollack, guitarist John Storie, drummer Steve Lyman, percussionist James Yoshizawa and bassist Christopher Tordini. It consists of nine tracks seven original tunes and two jazz standards all composed or arranged by Baird.
The music has a classic sound with modern jazz concepts, he says. The name, "Crosscurrent," alludes to the band’s even East-West orientation. Three members have professional ties to Los Angeles and three have ties to New York. "I wanted to see what would happen when you mix two things that don’t usually mix," Baird says.
The term also refers to the disparity between the innate path one is expected to take and that which one chooses to take that path, or crosscurrent, he says, is where spirituality and wisdom lie.
Baird and his fellow musicians recently toured northern California and are planning performances in the Southwest and on the East Coast. A show with guest musicians from New York is scheduled for Oct. 13 at the Speakeasy Lounge in Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile Baird is writing new music, which he says incorporates influences from progressive classical music, and hopes to record a collaboration CD with Pollack within the next year. He is still planning to move to New York City but in the meantime is enjoying life in Park City.
His long-term goals entail creating a sustainable life, financially and otherwise, through performing music, and, he says, "to create something of meaning artistically." He dreams of performing concerts around the world and also of teaching others music and the art of creativity.
"I aspire to be someone students can come to in order to learn to be themselves through music," he says.