Expecting the unexpected with Jon Batiste and Stay Human
February 4, 2014
Movado Future Legend Award winner Jon Batiste said Park City should "expect the unexpected" when he and his band Stay Human perform at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday.
"We could bring someone up on stage and play an arrangement that we’ve been playing with for 10 years," Batiste said during a phone call to The Park Record from his home in New York City. "Anything can happen."
The 26-year-old traveling ambassador for Music Unites, a nonprofit organization that changes inner-city landscapes by empowering youths through music, said Stay Human will be performing some music from the band’s most recent album, "Social Music."
"We’ll play something from the album that has transformed throughout the time we have been touring," he said. "We started the tour in October and will continue until May, if not longer.
"Those guys are getting deep into the chemistry that we already have," Batiste said. "So if people have heard the record, imagine hearing things from the record that are even more developed and lived in, so to speak."
Batiste said music wasn’t his main career choice when he was growing up near New Orleans, La.
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"I was always around music, but never thought about going into it as my only option," he said. "I had thought about doing different things, and eventually music, as it does with others, chose me."
Batiste began playing and was in a junior band with his cousins.
"We were into video-game music and I was studying classical piano at the time," he said. "When I was a teenager, I was drawn to jazz because of the challenge it would present. I liked that I could improvise and be spontaneous."
He began studying with the great New Orleans educators, like Alvin Batiste and Ellis Marsalis and attended New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).
"I was always playing shows," Batiste said. "It was funk music, salsa music and even rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop, because that’s just the way that New Orleans’ music scene was and still is."
Batiste ended up moving to New York when I was 17 and attended Juilliard.
"The scene in the city and everything that was going around kind of pulled me in," he said. "From the beginning, I’ve always had a diverse array of interests. I’m also fortunate to come from New Orleans, which is the cultural mash-up of the century."
One of the main things the young musician learned from growing up in New Orleans was showmanship.
"It’s essential for the audience who attend the shows in New Orleans for that component to be in the performance," he said. "Even if it’s a jazz show, you see the element of showmanship, and that’s just part of the culture.
"That was the beginning for me, and as time progresses, you develop as an artist and create your own concepts," said Batiste, who is also the Artistic Director At Large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
The songs on "Social Music" came out of the concept of bringing music to people.
"I do believe as a musician who comes from that tradition that one of our obligations is to document the times that we live in," Batiste said. "One of those ways how we manifest sound through improvising, because to me, you have to be honest and live in the time that you’re in.
"It’s been impossible for me to do that without keeping my ears open, and therefore being affected by and really enjoying contemporary music," he said. "Music isn’t something that should be divided up into jazz, classical or other things. If I hear something that moves me, it’s all the same thing to me. When you think of the spirit of music it narrows it down to what the intent of the music or what is the message you’re trying to get across to the audience."
That’s how Batiste’s own musical concept has developed.
"When we play at Park City, we’ll be ready to create the moment," he said. "We come to fill the space with what we call ‘love riots,’ because no matter where we are, the subway or concert hall, the audience can expect something to be spontaneous and still be optimistic about the feeling that they’ll get when they come to partake in the experience.
"That’s the kind of engagement that comes when musicians begin thinking about how to connect the music with the moment rather than thinking about the music as something we perform from our repertoire," he said. "It’s about the consciousness of the performers in their ability to engage the audience in an understanding of the moment."
This is something Batiste does with Music Unites.
"I think you have to share the music with the people in a way that will make them understand it in lay-person terminology," he explained. "Being a traveling ambassador, especially in education, allows you to give music to young people in a way that will enrich their lives."
That’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
"Like history, music is a science," Batiste said. "It’s also mathematical. It’s a foreign language. It enriches the lives of young people, who will take the tools they learned, whether they become musicians or not, to enrich the culture over time. And that’s an obligation for artists in my position to do just that with what we’ve been given."
The payback is even more surprising.
"Last week we were doing lectures at Harvard, and then I went and collaborated with the New York City Ballet," Batiste said. "The other day I was given an award at the Apollo Theatre.
"There have been so many things that I never would have predicted that has come out of music," he said. "I’m thankful it’s happened that way."
Not one to sit back and stagnate, Batiste is thinking about his future.
"People can keep in contact with us through social media, via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and share us with people," he said. "I eventually would love to develop the sound of genre-less music in our generation even further to the point that it becomes a distinguishable idiom."
The Park City Institute will present Jon Batiste & Stay Human at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $69. For more information or to buy tickets, visit http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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