A Musical Tribute to Disney Legend Norman Buddy
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
by Sheila Hagen, staff writer
A Tribute to Norman Buddy Baker. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Bing Theater, a concert hall on the University of Southern California
campus, was filled to capacity for a tribute to Norman Buddy
Baker, composer, conductor and Disney Legend. It was obvious that not
only was Buddy Baker highly-regarded as a musical legend, but as a mentor,
teacher and friend to many on-stage and in the audience.
The tribute was hosted by David Spear, lecturer at USC's Scoring for
Motion Pictures and Television Department. The audienceconsisting
mainly of USC music students, Disney Studios personnel and music industry
giantswas there because of their respect and admiration for the
legendary Buddy Baker. Baker played an integral part in the Disney Studios
empire and helped to create one of the finest film scoring schools in
the United States.
The performers for this tribute were either faculty or students at the
USC Thornton School of Music (all with extensive musical resumes themselves),
or were colleagues and friends of Baker's in the music industry.
The opening number was a rendition of Golden Dreams (from
American Adventure at Epcot) as performed by Bob Moline, who provided
vocals and guitar. Moline, a well-known songwriter and performer of songs
such as Listen to the Land, Energy, Canada,
Golden Dreams, Dream Flight and If You Could
Fly, had a long-standing friendship with Baker.
Bob Moline performing Golden Dreams. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Following Moline was an intriguing trio of compositions for brass quartet,
Screen Theme Suite, by veteran composer and arranger Joe Harnell,
and performed by Harnell and the USC Thornton Saxophone Quartet. The suite,
dedicated by Harnell to Baker, consisted of Tango for Two Left Feet,
the Lonely Man Theme from the movie, The Incredible
Hulk, and the theme from the television mini-series, V. Harnell
met Baker in 1973 when he joined the faculty at the Dick Grove School
of Music, a private music school in Southern California, and counted Baker
as a good friend ever since.
Harnell recounted how Baker hosted a monthly luncheon in Burbank that
lasted for years. In attendance would be fellow composers and friends
such as Maurice Jarre, Elmer Bernstein, and other Disney composers. Baker
was always supportive and encouraged his friends and young up-and-coming
A highlight of the tribute was a special arrangement of Grim Grinning
Ghosts for the USC Thornton Chamber Choir. Directed by William Dehning,
the piece was accompanied by the brass quartet, Yuri Inoo on percussion,
and a jazz trio, featuring the legendary drummer Louis Bellson and Greg
Swiller on bass. Following this piece was Bellson's own composition, Live
Every Day, also performed by the USC Thornton Chamber Choir.
The USC Thornton Chamber Choir performing Live Every Day.
Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Ending the first half of the program was a delightful jazz composition
called Buddy's Blues, written and composed by pianist/vocalist
Wini Beatty. The song was created for Baker's 80th birthday party. Beatty
recounted how Charlotte Baker, Buddy's wife, handed Beatty a biography
on Buddy and Beatty remarked that all she had to do was just make
it rhyme. And holding to her promise, the song detailed Baker's
entire life, from growing up in Springfield, Missouri, to his career at
Disney and teacher at USC.
Beatty also told of how Buddy Baker got his nickname: his sister could
not pronounce the word brother and the word came out as buddy,
so the nickname stuck.
Following the intermission, the inimitable Richard Sherman took the stage
and performed three songs that were ultimately arranged and orchestrated
by Baker: Wonderful World of Color, It's a Small World
and Winnie the Pooh. Sherman would first play the song on
piano, and then a video presentation of the final version of each song
was presented. Sherman pointed out how masterfully Baker would arrange
each song, precisely matching the musical style to the scene.
Richard Sherman reminisces about Buddy Baker. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Sherman related how Walt Disney pulled in the Sherman Brothers at the
last minute to compose the tune for It's a Small World for
the 1964 World's Fair in New York. The Sherman Brothers quickly wrote
the tune, but it fell to Buddy Baker to arrange the song so that each
repetition of the tune would match the featured country as the ride boats
When Baker orchestrated the Heffalumps & Woozles song for
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1968, Baker wanted the
silliest and craziest types of sounds for that sequence. Sherman suggested
a kazoo in addition to other instruments like ocarinas and accordions,
and Baker readily agreed. And when Richard Sherman came into help Baker
re-record the score for Walt Disney World's new ride, The Many Adventures
of Winnie the Pooh, Baker had a kazoo ready for Sherman to play.
Following Sherman was Baker's stepson, Scott Keene, who told of his father's
love of teaching and guiding young students through their musical careers.
Introducing the next number, Ode to Charlee (with a double
ee, he joked), Keene recalled that Baker, having written the
song especially for his wife, Charlotte, called the song the story
of their life in 32 bars. The romantic ballad was performed by faculty
member Ron McCurdy (who provided vocals and trumpet solo), accompanied
by David Spear on piano.
Ron McCurdy describes getting to know Buddy Baker well in a USC faculty
building elevator, notorious for being rather slow. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Adam Fields, a student of Baker's and composer for the television series,
Dawson's Creek, related how Baker would walk his students to the
next class and counsel them on their careers and music. He also described
how Baker deftly dealt with the constantly changing requirements of movie
making and composing in the corporate world of movie studios. Drawing
one of the biggest laughs of the evening was the story of how he provided
Baker with a famous quip for dealing with movie executives: I'll
write your film score for free, but I'll have to charge you a lot of money
for the B.S. Sure enough, when a film clip was shown later in the
program of Baker accepting his ASCAP Lifetime Achievement award, Baker
used this exact joke.
Next up was an excerpt from the movie The Fox and the Hound, where
Spear demonstrated with the help of recent USC graduate David Dunbar,
how Baker would teach young conductors how to conduct a recording session
for movie scores. Using a technique known as free time, colored
bars known as streamers are placed at strategic points in
the rough edit of the film so the conductor knows when the next musical
cue will be occurring.
Jon Burlingame, another lecturer at USC's film scoring department, provided
an overview of Baker's accomplishments. Burlingame pointed out that not
only did Baker create a large body of work for television and movies,
but he was the innovator of how to score music for theme park attractions,
creating a seamless transition from scene to scene for Disney rides, as
nothing like this had ever been done before.
A video finale was then shown, featuring film clips of Roy Disney presenting
the Disney Legend award to Baker in 1995; music from The Mickey Mouse
Club, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Treasure of
Matecumbe, Charlie the Lonesome Cougar, and Donald in Mathmagic
Land; and his acceptance of the ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement
Award in 1999.
Closing remarks were delivered by Dr. Robert Cutietta, Dean of USC's
Thornton School of Music. Cutietta relayed the poignant story of when
he first accepted the position at USC. He called Baker, who was then in
the hospital. Although Cutietta was uncomfortable at calling Baker, Baker
still insisted on talking to Cutietta for 45 minutes, telling him how
he helped build the film scoring department at USC and of his dreams and
aspirations for the program. Cutietta, feeling inspired, agreed to meet
with Baker again later on. Sadly, Baker died the very next day.
Following the program, a reception was held at the Alfred Newman Recital
Hall Gallery, which also served to premiere the exhibit paying tribute
to Baker's life and accomplishments.
The exhibit consists primarily of letters, musical scores and other memorabilia
from the personal collection of Mrs. Charlotte Baker, with the larger
signage provided by Walt Disney Imagineering. Curators of the exhibit
are the USC Thornton School of Music, Marketing and Communications, Margaret
Ha and Amanda Smith.
Eighteen display cases highlight facets of Baker's life. Photos, musical
scores, awards and placards reflected the following topics:
- Conductor and Composer
- Awards & Honors
- Disney Legend
- Young Man
- Winnie the Pooh
Music for the Winnie the Pooh attraction. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
- Television & Movies
- The Fox and the Hound
- 1964 World's Fair
- Haunted Mansion
Music for the Haunted Mansion attraction. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
Baker and others re-enact the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover while in
London recording the score for Impressions of France. Photo by Jeff Moxley.
- World of Motion
- Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort
Full listing of his accomplishments in film, television and theme parks
Some of the attractions Baker worked on at Walt Disney World. Photo by
The exhibit runs through May 2004. The Alfred Newman Recital Hall Gallery
is located near the university's eastern border of Figueroa Street at
USC's University Park Campus, 3616 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA.
Call the university's main number, (213) 740-2311, for hours and more
For more information about Buddy Baker, please see our article, The
Masters of Disney: Reflections of Five Men Who Shaped the Art of Entertainment.
Norman Buddy Baker
b. 1918 - d. July 26, 2002
Buddy Baker is the 1999 recipient of the
ASCAP Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the Program Director
for the Advanced Studies Program "Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television,"
at the University of Southern California. He received his Doctor of
Music Degree from Southwest Baptist University.
Buddy is survived by his wife Charlotte, a
daughter and a stepson, his sister, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
The Foundations of Magic (formerly Architects of Magic) column looks at the important building blocks that formed the basis of Walt Disney's dream, and includes a look at Disney history, Disney lore, and important Disney individualsparticularly Imagineers and artistswho made significant contributions to Walt Disney's dream.
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