BRANFORD — As one other Thanksgiving approaches, the solar could lastly be setting on “Guitar George” Baker’s unimaginable life.

But when that proves to be the case, it’s an exquisite, harvest sundown just like the sunsets over Lengthy Island Sound exterior his window at Connecticut Hospice.

It’s a sundown stuffed with love, household and good pals, tasty meals and plenty and many good music — a lot of the latter made by Baker himself, who has continued to jam with pals from his hospice mattress, as his energy has allowed, in latest days.

Above all, it’s a sundown stuffed with gratitude on all sides.

What does an 81-year-old, lifelong blues, jazz and soul musician mendacity in a mattress in Connecticut Hospice, his physique drained from a protracted struggle with liver most cancers, need to be pleased about?

“What am I not grateful for?” Baker mentioned earlier this week, when he was slightly stronger than he has been the final couple of days, flashing a giant smile that also lights up a room. That smile, together with Baker’s {smooth}, pushed and soulful music, would be the factor that folks bear in mind greatest about him sometime.

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Watch George Baker jam on Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Glad” final Sunday in his Connecticut Hospice room.

When you’re musically inclined and have lived alongside the Connecticut coast for any size of time, all about George Baker.

When you’re not, you need to know that Baker, an area treasure with a smooth-as-silk supply and a heat smile on his face even when occasions are robust, has been knowledgeable musician for 64 of his 81 years on Earth.

The Louisiana-born, New York-polished native icon knew and as a younger man performed with the late blues nice Jimmy Reed. He met Sam Cooke. He spent three years within the late 1960s and early ’70s as Marvin Gaye’s bandleader.

He has been a beloved, ubiquitous a part of the New Haven and Connecticut music scene for the previous 34 years.

(As a journalist who is also knowledgeable musician, I’ve been blessed to play with Baker a lot of occasions over time, each sitting in together with his band and when he joined my band, The Cobalt Rhythm Kings, once we opened for the late Son Seals on the New Haven Inexperienced again in 1999. He is also my longtime buddy, for which I’m eternally grateful.)

When you suppose going to hospice is only a unhappy interval ready for somebody to go, Baker’s time there thus far has been something however merely somber.

Whereas Baker has had some quiet occasions, the place he lay holding the arms of his daughter, Jan Baker, and his granddaughter, Quenna Baker, there even have been some livelier occasions in latest days, stuffed with laughter, generally with as many as eight or 10 individuals at a time as his many family and friends members stopped by to see him.

RELATED: A musical Merry Christmas message from George Baker and Mark Zaretsky, circa 2018.

In his room, two guitars sit close to the mattress — one acoustic, one electrical. Leaning up towards the home windows are a number of poster-sized photographs, together with one black-and-white blowup of him taking part in with Marvin Gaye at Motown founder Berry Gordy’s outdated home in Detroit.

One other exhibits a 12-year-old George Baker in Louisiana, holding his toddler niece, together with his mom, Mary, and two youthful brothers additionally within the photograph. A 3rd photograph, amongst his favorites, is an artsy shot of a cormorant by good buddy Hayward Gatling.

Baker started combating most cancers in 2012, then began combating it once more when it was discovered to have returned final fall.

“Life is a course of — you’ve received to be prepared for the undesirable,” Baker mentioned on the time. “… It’s like a tough slap, however you possibly can’t slap no person again.”

Was he scared?

“Do I look scared?” Baker mentioned, flashing that smile. “Frightened of what?”

Then, certain sufficient, he bounced again, began feeling higher and ended up taking part in a reasonably full slate of gigs all yr, till as lately as Nov. 2 at Christopher Martins in New Haven.

On Saturday, for the primary time, his band led the Cafe 9 Jazz Jam with out him.

Quenna Baker mentioned her grandfather is prepared for what’s to come back.

“He’s firmly at peace,” she mentioned. “We’ve been getting ready for this for a very long time” and in latest months have gone to New York and New Jersey to go to outdated pals and relations and tie up unfastened ends, she mentioned.

Baker’s household and pals, then again, aren’t finished exhibiting their love for him.

On Saturday, along with household, Baker received visits from each the present proprietor of Cafe 9, Paul Mayer, and authentic Cafe 9 proprietor Mike Reichbart and his spouse, Maureen; outdated buddy Tina Fabrique from New York Metropolis, who has sung and acted on Broadway and elsewhere — together with as a member of the forged of “Noise/Funk,” “Ragtime” and “The Wiz”; singer Kriss Santala; and top-shelf Bridgeport bass participant Steve Clarke, amongst others.

On Sunday, Boogie Chillun bandmates Vaughn Collins and Derek Graham, blues-jazz guitarist Tony Dioguardi, guitarist Peter Blossom of The Crimson Planet, drummer John Rispoli, guitarist Shawn “Chewy” Chua, bass participant Willie Moore and guitarist-bassist Morris Trent, together with New Haven restauranteur and caterer Amoy Kong-Brown and her husband, jazz drummer Phil Brown — who grew up with Baker in Louisiana — have been among the many guests.

On Monday, Katherine Christopher of The Convertibles, drummer Derrick Tappin, Phil Brown, longtime Cafe 9 bartender and waitress Laurie Jarcho and a lot of others got here by.

A number of occasions alongside the best way, the musical devices have come out, together with Saturday afternoon when Dioguardi, Blossom and I (on harmonica) joined him for a brief bed room acoustic set that included “The Home of the Rising Solar,” “St. James Infirmary,” Michael Jackson’s “By no means Can Say Goodbye,”Albert King’s “As The Years Go Passing By” and Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Glad.”

In the midst of one tune, Baker’s nephew handed him a cellphone so he might speak to a different relative.

As Baker performed unplugged electrical guitar whereas sitting up in mattress, there even was speak, solely half-joking, of shifting the grand piano from the hospice foyer into his room and throwing a blowout live performance for the opposite sufferers and their family members.

With the roster of holiday makers to Baker’s room in latest days — which has included a number of the greatest jazz, blues and funk musicians within the space, New York Metropolis and in some circumstances the world — it could be a heck of a present.

Baker grew up in rural Louisiana exterior Baton Rouge with blues icons Buddy Man and the late Phil Man, amongst others.

As a younger man, along with Reed and Gaye, he performed with Gene Allison, Johnny Adams, The Flamingos, The Shirelles, The Drifters and Melba Moore, amongst many others — and within the late 1960s, he performed in the home band of the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Baker lived in New York Metropolis from 1961 till 1985, first in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant part and later in Park Slope, close to the present location of the Barclay Heart.

However he moved right here to be nearer to his daughter and then-baby granddaughter — one thing that in flip blessed generations of Better New Haven musicians and music followers since.

“What can I say, George is a one-of-a-kind brother,” mentioned Boogie Chillun’s Graham, who has performed with him in that band over time. “I met George in 1993 and he received our band, Boogie Chillun, certainly one of our first gigs at Poco Loco in New Haven. He’s been a mentor and nice fiend ever since.

“George is as actual as they arrive and can let you know or name you out for those who ain’t taking part in the music proper,” Graham mentioned. “I admire that about him as a result of he’s a scholar of the music himself. God bless you, George, and your loved ones.”

Singer Greg Sherrod, who has been part of the New Haven music scene for many years regardless that he now lives out close to the Rhode Island border, mentioned his private story with Baker “is deep.”

“He not solely set an instance of sophistication and professionalism,” however he “put me by way of a crucible of fireside as a musician. He poked me, prodded me and challenged me,” Sherrod mentioned. “He additionally gave me alternative and reward once I labored arduous for it. “

Baker “at all times knew I might do it. Though I drove him loopy with my over-the-top antics, George confirmed me kindness and mentorship; a debt I can by no means repay,” he mentioned. “Slip straightforward into that good evening, George. Thanks for all the pieces.”

Todd Lyon, a New Haven meals author, former member of Eight To The Bar and co-owner of Fashionista Classic & Selection — and Baker’s landlord/housemate lately — mentioned, “I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful for the friendship of a person who’s a nationwide treasure, and likewise a member of the household of my coronary heart.”

She recollects “many George Baker diamonds in my thoughts. Within the earliest years of our friendship, we talked consistently, about all the pieces, overlaying all the topics: Zen, the basics of communication, his sentimental attachment to the Crimson Lobster. And, we sang,” she mentioned. “Late nights with nice pals, one tune resulting in the following, making an attempt out harmonies, riffing.

“As many occasions as I’ve seen and beloved George acting on stage, these lounge jams have been my favourite musical moments, his fingers free and flying, his feelings so near the floor that he’d generally cease, mid-phrase, to comprise himself,” she mentioned.

Gatling, who additionally met Baker on the outdated Poco Loco Mexican restaurant and music venue (now El Amigo Felix) on Whalley Avenue, mentioned, “I bear in mind strolling previous the bar and listening to the music … and seeing his face and saying, ‘You recognize, that looks like a man I might get together with.’

“What can I be pleased about? He was like my massive brother ever since then,” Gatling mentioned.

Bassist Jerry Langley, who performed with Baker for 5 years and one other 4-5 years with The George Baker Expertise, known as him “a trooper, a pacesetter and an excellent buddy.”

Over time, “George, like my cousin, Wayne Boyd, was robust on me — and I wanted it,” Langley mentioned. “I like George for serving to make me a stronger bass participant. For God has blessed this brother to the fullest.

“George, you’re certainly one of a sort and I like you, brother,” he mentioned. “Could God maintain you protected and sound trigger you’re positively certainly one of his troopers.”

Santala mentioned, “It’s heartwarming and comforting to see all the chums that come to go to George. One million years in the past, I knew who George Baker was and had heard him play a couple of occasions. I used to be amazed together with his expertise. And beloved his massive character.”

Then, years later, “It simply so occurred he was at a Kilgore Trout gig I had at Cherie’s on York Avenue. We have been taking part in on the second flooring,” she mentioned. “After we have been by way of, I went downstairs to order a chilly one. George mentioned I made him stroll up two flights of stairs as a result of he needed to discover out who that voice belonged to.”

Guitarist Jean Sandoval has identified Baker for greater than 20 years — and has performed with him each in Boogie Chillun and with The Sandoval Band.

“He’s certainly one of my guitar heroes, mentors, and lately a really … good buddy,” Sandoval mentioned. “I’m very grateful this yr to have had some nice conversations with him in addition to him sharing phrases of knowledge — and just some months again, work within the studio.

“Again in 1998, a younger little Hispanic child who was obsessive about the blues met George Baker at The Blues Cafe’s open blues jam on Tuesday nights,” Sandoval mentioned. “Since technically I wasn’t allowed in, by some means I sneaked in, wrote my identify on the sign-up sheet and received up on stage each Tuesday (well past my bedtime).

“On the finish of my two songs, as I used to be packing as much as go (and on a whole excessive from simply taking part in some killer blues with a few of world’s greatest gamers) George would say, ‘Hey man, play a couple of extra with us,’” Sandoval mentioned.

“The facility of these phrases planted one thing in me, resonated with me, empowered me and would finally encourage me to play music for a residing,” he mentioned. “George, your legacy will dwell on! Thanks, my bro.”

Rhona Ceppos of Milford is a fan of Baker and music typically — a large enough fan that a couple of years again, she deliberate her whole 50th birthday celebration round him and his band taking part in at what then was The Seashore Home (now The Village Bistro) on the Woodmont shore.

“I made pals go there early to seize all of the high-top bar stools,” she mentioned. The gig ended comparatively early, about 11 p.m., and on the finish, Baker and different band members have been speaking.

Ceppos mentioned, “Wait, you haven’t sung me, ‘Blissful Birthday,’” and Baker mentioned, “It’s your birthday?” Then he took the time play and sing her the birthday tune, she mentioned.

The following time she noticed him, at Cafe 9, “I mentioned, “Hello George,” and he mentioned, “Hey, it’s the birthday woman!”

Among the many issues Ceppos has at all times preferred about Baker is that “he’s actually approachable,” she mentioned.

“As a musician, he makes it look very easy. … That’s the very first thing I observed about him,” she mentioned. Past that, “He’s received this lovely smile. He makes you are feeling good that you just got here” to see him.

mark.zaretsky@hearstmediact.com



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