Written By Ali Lemmons
Lisa Baker’s guitar is an extension of her own body. From the decorative swirls running along its length to the initial “L” sewn on the strap, it’s a tangible display of her love of jazz. And she’s rarely found without it.
“It kind of goes everywhere with me, period,” she laughed. “Going to the beach, take my guitar.”
Baker, a jazz performer and adjunct professor of music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has had a heart for jazz music ever since she can remember.
Growing up as the daughter of two jazz enthusiasts, Baker fondly recalls how the music shaped her childhood. She used to sing the jazz standards, which are important musical compositions to the genre, as her mother played them and sat with her dad as he listened to jazz instrumentals.
Beginning in high school, Baker turned this love of music into a performance career. Since then, she’s played for a variety of notable artists including Tina Turner and Ricky Skaggs, she said.
“I was the sit-in girl for a lot of famous people for a long time,” Baker said. “I would be a warmup act. So, I would go up and play solo guitar and sing.”
At 38 years old, Baker realized that she wanted to be a lead guitarist—all while being a single mother. Under the instruction of her teacher, Baker began playing in bands.
Eventually, Baker earned a Masters in Jazz Guitar at Northern Illinois University. She was the first woman to ever earn a degree in guitar from the university, according to Baker.
Baker always knew she wanted to move back to Tennessee after earning her degree in jazz.
“Nashville had changed so much in the 11 years I was away. It wasn’t really the same city,” Baker recalled. “So, I wanted something a little different.”
Eventually, she landed in Chattanooga. The city allowed her to live near family while also staying close to the clubs and friends she had grown to love in Nashville, Baker said.
“Here, I get to get out and play with the best guys in Chattanooga,” she said. “There’s a supportive environment, so I feel like it’s a good nurturing place.”
Now, Baker performs with her band—the Knotty Professors— and teaches music classes at UTC. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, Baker performed at Barking Legs, a theater in downtown Chattanooga.
Barking Legs’ Wednesday Jazz program allows local artists to share their musical talents with the community.
Alan Wyatt, a fellow jazz performer and associate professor of music at Lee University, is also involved with the jazz program at Barking Legs.
“I think they are doing a great job,” Wyatt said. “We have a consistent crowd that comes that are very appreciative, and I’m just very honored to get to be a part of this.”
Wyatt felt that the improvisational nature of jazz and its ability to create drew him into the genre, he said.
“The African influence of the rhythms, the syncopation and the layering coupled with the creativity of getting to express yourself, that’s what jazz music is,” said Wyatt. “So, that’s really the vehicle for me to express myself.”
In addition to the childhood ties that she had to jazz, Baker also prefers it for the complexity of the music, she said.
“It’s really the highest form that you can move to musically because of improvisation and the harmonic structures,” Baker explained. “It uses the extensions in the music. It’s more complex.”
Despite the struggle of balancing her career and being a single mother, Baker never considered walking away from jazz, she said.
“I don’t think I could have done anything else. I think it’s just baked in my cake,” Baker said. “ It’s the recipe of who I am. I just had to do it.”
Teaching the Art of Music
Written By Stephanie Shannon
Historically, Chattanooga has little to no lineage to Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art that embodies elements of dance, acrobatics, music and culture. With support from his wife, Cherokee Ellison used his Capoeira background to create a program, Move N Groove Kidz, which teaches children the importance of music and dance.
“My wife asked me what I was going to do with Capoeira, because I was just taking classes, and she asked me if I was going to ever stop and I am like no,” said Ellison, a student and teacher of Capoeira, “and so she told me if you are not going to stop then you might as well become a master.”
From kindergarteners to high school seniors, Move N Groove Kidz embodies Capoeira culture; it offers free classes to enrich minds and bodies through the musical art. According to Cherokee, the class provides an outlet for youngsters of overwhelmed parents.
“Parents afterward can take their bigger and older siblings to football, basketball, but the younger ones are not neglected, they have gotten their time,” Ellison said.
Ellison is a student and a teacher of Capoeira, and a lot of the elements in the Move N Groove Kidz program originated from that culture. He believes that movement is vital to early childhood development and should be utilized as early as possible.
“Coming back and teaching movement, I am looking at when we need to start moving and it went all the way down to babies, and how are we going to produce the best movements if we don’t get them started on a wave at a young age,” Ellison said. “It doesn’t have to be in a certain direction, just in general, just for life.”
The program wants to spark change, empower and encourage future leaders to learn the art of music and dance. This gives kids a chance to grow up without societal expectations of what is considered masculine.
“A lot of our Black boys do not realize that our dancers are warriors, and they always look at dance as a feminine aspect and then when they see this, they are like I can be who I am and dance without trying to fit in anybody’s picture,” Cherokee said.
Cherokee Ellison is seen as a light in the community through his determination to make others aware of the beauty of Capoeira in Chattanooga. He continues to host events and study his craft through the furtherance of his education.
“Now I am not to teach but to be a student and now I am really studying this culture for myself to become a master.”
Meet the Storytellers
Kylee Boone is a visual storyteller studying Communication at UT Chattanooga. She utilizes her leadership qualities as the Social Media and Advertising Director for The University Echo and as the co-founder of her nonprofit organization with Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home. She hopes to one day work in social media management and inspire others through her work in storytelling. For questions or collaboration, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia (Allie) English is an aspiring documentarian with a passion for visual storytelling. She currently studies both Communications and Environmental Science with the goal of bringing awareness to social and environmental injustices. Allie served as an Assistant Photo Editor with the University Echo and as an intern with Cypress Magazine. She believes in the power of visual narration to promote empathy and community. For collaboration, please reach out to email@example.com.
Madelyn McCrary is a senior Communication major with a minor in Creative Writing at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who is graduating in May of 2023. Madelyn is an audiographer and writer who enjoys multimedia storytelling that entertains her audience and sparks discourse within her community. She has a passion for podcasting, writing, and photojournalism. For questions and collaboration, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ali Lemmons is a junior communications major with a minor in computer science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Ali primarily calls herself a writer, but has a newfound passion for photojournalism. Professionally, Ali works as a content writer for Lemmtec, a website development company, and has done freelance writing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To contact Ali about her work, she can be reached at email@example.com.
Stephanie Shannon’s work as a writer, photographer and volunteer reflects her compassionate personality. A junior studying communication science with a minor in psychology, Stephanie desires to continue her education by seeking a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology. She’s a student ministry leader and group photographer for Silverdale Baptist Church. Throughout her writing she hopes to inspire change as she illuminates on social issues in the community. To contact her, you may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor Carmody is a Senior at UT Chattanooga majoring in Communication with a minor in Child and Family Studies. She has a passion for storytelling through still photos. She is a volunteer leader and is on Student Staff with Chattanooga Young Life. Taylor is a hard working and compassionate individual. She hopes to graduate and continue to share unheard stories of those in the community. To connect or collaborate with Taylor, email her at email@example.com.
Noah Fernandez is a visual storyteller through photojournalism. He is studying theatre and communications at UTC. He utilizes his skills learned through theatre to engage people in the real world in order to tell exciting stories. For any storytelling opportunities contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.