Jon Batiste brings jazz revelations to winter wilderness
This winter has been brutal for the entire country, and most of us slog through January and February, trying to survive until spring arrives.
But when you live in Louisiana, those first two months are the best part of the year. From around Epiphany Day in January to Fat Tuesday the latter on March 4 this year Cajuns and everyone else in the Pelican State celebrate Mardi Gras season, with festivals and mountains of king cakes every weekend, culminating in a gloriously endless number of parades where exposing oneself to receive cheap plastic beads is not only legal, but encouraged.
So, now that the fun of the Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up, the Park City Institute will bring a much-needed warm infusion of what young jazz musician Jon Batiste and his band Stay Human call "Social Music," which of course comes from growing up in the most social of states, Louisiana, the home of neighborhood crawfish boils.
Batiste, a 27-year-old native of a New Orleans suburb, is the latest and arguably most talented member of the legendary Batiste musical family. As a virtuoso on the piano and any other instrument with keys, the Juilliard School-educated Batiste is now a leading force in the New York arts community, evidenced by his position as associate artistic director at the National Museum in Harlem.
But his No. 1 commitment is creating his own Ã©touffÃ©e of music that uses elements of the blues, rock, hip-hop, soul, R&B and other genres as yet unnamed to make his own brand of jazz with Stay Human. The audience is an integral part of the performance, and if you ever come across Batiste and his band improvising in the street, don't be alarmed they are just engaging in what they call a "Love Riot."
Batiste answered email questions about his Louisiana upbringing, what "Social Music" is and what he will be doing on Fat Tuesday this year.
When I lived in Louisiana, I loved all of the small-town festivals that happen every weekend, such as the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival of Morgan City. Did playing in some of these festivals affect your development into being a young man and artist?
It did because of how wonderful it felt to be out there among the community. It was something beyond only hearing the music. This feeling has never left me and is also the root of social music.
How has being a Louisianan affected you, musically and nonmusically?
It is a rich culture that has a deep spiritual effect on everyone who is a part of it. Louisiana is magic. It's very hard to describe. Being from Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans, I really feel grounded for some reason.
Are you where you thought you would be at this elevated stage of your career?
I always trust in God and follow the flow of the universe. I feel I am exactly where I should be. I do like to plan very far ahead, but I always leave room for things to evolve and develop. I am happy now to have an opportunity to make a serious impact with my art.
What does your position at the National Museum in Harlem allow you to do, and how does it benefit not only the community but you?
It's a position of service. It allows me to teach young people many profound lessons learned from jazz music. It's a contribution to our educational system, which ultimately has the potential to enrich the culture. The museum also can serve as a community hub in Harlem. The possibilities are endless. I'm excited to continue the process of transforming the museum into all of this and more.
You appeared in and worked on much of the music for Spike Lee's 2012 Sundance-premiered film "Red Hook Summer." How did you get involved in that, would you like to do more of that and were you able to visit Park City to celebrate the festival?
I was in Sundance for the premiere. It was amazing. Spike is a friend of mine and we'd been looking for a reason to collaborate for a long time. I loved working with him, and we have already done some other things that will come out soon. Music is first for me, although I love acting. I returned to Sundance in 2013 for another film and taught a master class at Park City High School as well as performed with [former] Mayor Dana Williams at the Sundance ASCAP Music CafÃ©.
Do you have any fond memories of Utah?
I love to visit my extended family at the Summit Series [organization that hosts events for young entrepreneurs, artists and activists]. Being in Eden, Utah, has created endless memories. Also, the Love Riot that I did with Stay Human up Main Street during Sundance 2013 is an awesome memory.
Tell us about Stay Human and its musicians and mission. What is "Social Music"?
We want to bring people together through the power of genuine human exchange and through our live music experience. We aim to create timeless music that defies genre because we feel that is what represents the spirit of our era. Social Music is the genre we play and it's the concept of the band. We want to create diverse global communities with our music by bringing people together from all different backgrounds. One of the most significant ways that we do this is through education in tandem with live performance.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2014?
Touring, teaching and recording nonstop. I'm on a roll. We tour until May and possibly longer. I also have a ton of great music to record and museum projects to launch. It'll be a busy year.
What will you do on Fat Tuesday this year?
Nothing. I am not a big fan of Mardi Gras. I've grown up with it, so I'm pretty tired of it these days!
Jon Batiste & Stay Human
When • Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Eccles Center, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City
Tickets • $20 to $69 at ecclescenter.org; presented by Park City Institute.
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