Musician Louis Baker Talks Duality, Art, and Not Being “The Jazz Guy”
Wellington musician Louis Baker is one of the headliners of the Wellington Jazz Festival 2022.
Louis Baker is keen to point out that he is not the jazz guy at all, or the soul guy, or any particular type of genre.
Yes, he’s headlining the upcoming Wellington Jazz Festival, and yes, he was nominated for Best Soul/RnB Artist at the New Zealand Music Awards, but regardless, he refuses to be defined.
“I’ve discovered a lot of different stuff over the years, but I’m not the ‘jazz guy’. Music is just a way to convey sound and ultimately I’m just an artist making things.
Baker’s artistry has seen him recognized both in Aotearoa and overseas where he has toured to perform at major international festivals and gained a loyal following. Rolling Stone described their 2021 EP Love Levitates as “luxurious soul funk” while music legend India Arie simply said “Louis Baker, you sing my soul”.
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Speaking from his home in Titahi Bay, where he recently discovered the surprising and meditative joy of gardening, Baker describes his work quite simply: “I make music that makes me feel good.
Baker was born and raised in Newtown, the diverse Wellington suburb that influenced much of his music. He started writing songs and playing guitar around the age of 11, and remembers listening obsessively to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric LadyLand, transcribing the record by ear.
“He was a bit of a gateway to something amazing; it’s so cliché, but it really was like that. When I heard Voodoo Child (Slight Return), it was all over for me.
For a while, the teenager dabbled in heavy metal, trying to be the fastest guitarist around, then got into it and dabbled in the blues. Then there was hip hop, funk, soul, etc.
After college, he enrolled in jazz school, earning money performing concerts all over town. In 2013, he was chosen from 4,000 applicants to fill one of 60 places at the prestigious Red Bull Music Academy in New York.
Moving to London afterwards, he recorded a self-titled EP which debuted at number 3 on the NZ Album Chart and was one of five finalists for the 2014 APRA Silver Scroll Award.
Since then, Baker has racked up over 7.5 million Spotify streams and performed at festivals around the world. It was both an explosion and a huge privilege.
The freelance artist worked on new music commissioned for the jazz festival, collaborating with Cory Champion of the Clear Path Ensemble to produce four works titled Duality and The Elements.
“This notion of two opposing forces intrinsically linked and inseparable fascinates me, like light and dark, or te ao and te kore.”
Baker says his most recent work was hugely influenced by the books of poetry and philosophy — like those by Dante, Buddha, Lao Tzu and Alan Watts — that floated around his childhood home.
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“It’s fair to say that Eastern thought has really influenced my worldview, and more recently the world of te ao Māori and whakapapa has inspired me as well. This show recognizes these two worlds.
As for what the new music will bring to his audience?
“It will be a spectrum of vibrations and emotions. I hope I will take you on a good journey and that you will feel uplifted.
And what has the new music brought to him?
“Sometimes telling your own story is about seeing yourself in others and then writing about it. I think there’s a kind of catharsis there.”
Tickets for the Wellington Jazz Festival (October 19-23) are on sale now on Ticketmaster.