Jenny Oaks Baker, an Annandale mother of four and a former first violinist for the National Symphony Orchestra, is well known in the classical music world. Her last album topped the Billboard classical chart. But this year, she recorded an album of music from Disney movies, and now it’s been been nominated for a Grammy for best pop instrumental album of the year, going up against the likes of Brian Setzer, Booker T and Dave Koz.
Though some might say raising four children (the oldest is 10) is full-time work, Baker, 36, has now recorded 10 albums for Shadow Mountain Records and plays about 50 concerts a year around the country. “It’s a crazy life,” Baker said, “but it’s modern living and I love it.”
The Grammy nomination is Baker’s first, and she is “absolutely thrilled.” The album, “Wish Upon A Star,” includes “Beauty and the Beast,” a Mary Poppins medley, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and other Disney standards. But can it take down Setzer, the former Stray Cat and now big band-leader, or soul keyboard giant Booker T (once with the MGs), or smooth jazz saxophonist Koz?
Baker admitted she hadn’t heard of her competition. Growing up in Utah, she was too busy practicing. Here’s a clip of her lighting up a packed stadium in her home state last year, while opening for Carrie Underwood. More about Baker’s background after the jump.
Baker began playing the violin at four, debuted publicly at age eight and was a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall at 24. She moved east at 18 to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, then obtained her masters degree from the Juilliard School in New York, where she met her future husband.
He took a job in Washington, and Baker became a Northern Virginian. She played with the National Symphony for seven years before resigning in 2007 after the birth of her fourth child. But leaving the NSO has given her more time for her solo career, Baker said.
“Recording albums is so fun,” she said. “It’s crazy for a few weeks, then it’s done. It’s in the stores. Your music is performing for you all over the world, and I’m home with my kids.”
She said she was hoping fellow Mormon Mitt Romney was elected president “so I could play the White House.”
The Disney album is a good way to introduce a wider audience to classical music, Baker said. “It’s been really fun to perform around the country because at concerts, little girls will come in their princess outfits.”
She also was hopeful of her Grammy chances because “Disney has unusual appeal. I’ve got a good shot. If people hear the album, they’ll like it.”
You can get a free listen to the Grammy nominee at the Mormon temple in Kensington, Md., where Baker is playing free shows at the temple’s Festival of Lights next Sunday at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Monday, Dec. 12, also at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The Grammys take place on Feb. 12. The televised award show typically only distributes a handful of awards on air, so you’ll have to watch the annoying scroll along the bottom, or go to Grammy.com, to see if Baker won.
(Fascinating full disclosure: Baker’s sheet music is published by Jackman Music (!), which says it is the “Leading publisher of LDS (Mormon) sheet music.” This author’s heritage is largely non-Mormon, as far as I know, but further investigation is needed.)
Here’s a minute-long taste of “Wish Upon A Star”: