Ben Baker

Assistant Professor of Music Theory

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Biography

Ben Baker’s research focuses on cross-pollinations between jazz and popular music, with a broader interest in forging links between models of musical structure and interpretive issues related to intertextuality, improvisation, agency, and affordance. In 2019, his paper on harmony in the music of jazz pianist Robert Glasper received the Patricia Carpenter Emerging Scholar Award (2019) from the Music Theory Society of New York State (MTSNYS); this work was subsequently published in Theory and Practice. Additional publications appear in Music Theory Online and the Eastman Case Studies Series. Ben’s current book project addresses issues of intertextuality, agency, and genre in jazz adaptations of post-1960 American popular music; this project grows out of his dissertation, which received the 2021 Alfred Mann Dissertation Award.

An engaging and dynamic classroom teacher, Ben supervises Eastman’s first-year undergraduate written theory sequence. He has received both the University of Rochester’s Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student (2019) and Eastman’s Teaching Assistant Prize (2016). He also currently serves as the treasurer for MTSNYS, having recently completed a two-year term on the Society’s Board of Directors (2017-19).

In addition to his work as a theorist, Ben is an experienced pianist. Before coming to Eastman, he worked as a full-time freelance musician in New York City, where he performed regularly as a jazz and pop keyboardist in various professional ensembles; as a pianist in musical theater and cabaret productions; as a collaborative pianist with choirs and vocal soloists; and as a church musician. He also worked for four years as a regular music director, collaborative pianist, and vocal coach in NYU Steinhardt’s Vocal Performance Department (2011-15). He remains active as a pianist in both New York and Rochester. Outside of his musical pursuits, Ben is an avid runner, and he adores spending time with his wife and young children. He holds degrees from Eastman (Ph.D. and M.A. in music theory), NYU (M.M. in jazz piano performance), and St. Olaf College (B.A. in music and mathematics).