"I'm always about trying to fill a need with what I do in my artistry," says Jon Batiste,
an artist whose ambition is nothing less than to transform the very lives of his listeners.
"There is definitely a need in the performing-arts world for a movement to come along that
seriously connects with a next-generation audience while still maintaining the timeless
artistic objectives present throughout the history of the American music tradition."
It's a goal Batiste is steadily achieving with every performance, every interview, every
song, every album. Those two essential criteria-peerless artistry combined with all the
uplifting pleasure of entertainment-exist squarely at the heart of Batiste's musical
vision. And they are both fully evident in every exultant note on Social Music,
the new album by Batiste and his irrepressible musical collective, Stay Human.
Both the title of the album and the name of the band are telling. Now a quartet (including
Batiste), Stay Human has evolved over the past eight years, running the spectrum from a
jazz trio to a quintet to a big band with horns. Social Music reflects that
extraordinary range. But in Batiste's view, making such distinctions among styles of music
and varieties of sound is helpful but perhaps unnecessary. "The purpose of this music is to
bring people together from all walks of life by creating a montage of many different music
traditions and playing it with the spirit of inclusiveness," he explains. "That intent is
what gives these different styles cohesion, and that's why I decided to call it 'social
music.' We are in a technological age, and Social Music aims to reflect that
spirit of advancement, collaboration, and connectivity while still remaining 'human.' And
Stay Human, then, is a reminder of what connects us all. It's our mantra. With so many ways
to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music
experience and genuine human exchange. "
Now 26, Batiste has defined a vision based on the most profound aspects of what has
already been a rich artistic journey. He was born in New Orleans into a family whose deep
musical heritage is part of the inspiration for the HBO series Treme (in
which he has appeared). Over the last decade, he has forged his own artistic path by
indelibly fusing himself within the fabric of New York City culture. After attending the
prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), Batiste moved to New York and
graduated from The Juilliard School, earning a master's degree in jazz and classical piano.
He has collaborated with the likes of Prince, Cassandra Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Wynton
Marsalis, Jimmy Buffett, Eve, Lenny Kravitz, ?uestlove, and Asher Roth. He has also
recorded extensively, most recently putting out the EP MY NY with Stay Human in
2011, a set that was recorded live in the Manhattan subway system.
On the rough-and-tumble polyglot streets of New Orleans and New York, Batiste absorbed a
musical language that disregards genre distinctions as long as all the musicians are up to
the game and everyone is locked in and feeling the inspiration of the moment. At NOCCA and
Juilliard, he was solidly grounded in the importance of standards and tradition-the
conviction that the best of what has come before us must be kept living and taught to
future generations. To further that lofty aim, Batiste often lectures and gives master
classes, and he also serves as artistic director at large of the National Jazz Museum in
But Batiste strongly believes that people must have their minds opened in the streets as
well as in schools and museums. "Music always reflects the culture it comes from," he says.
"The world is connected more than it has ever been. In such a globally connected world,
musicians now have the unique opportunity to express all of the cultural 'mash ups' we are
experiencing these days. Akin to the blend of cultures that occurred in early-20th-century
New Orleans that led to the birth of jazz, I believe that the world has reached a similar
cultural turning point."
Using Twitter and Facebook to announce their plans, Batiste and Stay Human would ride the
New York City subways with their instruments, playing music from many different music
traditions and performing at the top of their talent all the while. It was a way to have
some fun and to startle people out of their preconceived notions about jazz, about where
it's appropriate to listen to music, about what it might mean to hear top-notch players
blasting away purely for the purpose of entertaining and connecting with you as you go
about your day. Batiste calls these spontaneous efforts to play in nontraditional places
"loveriots," and aptly so.
"If you're going to call it social music, then you have to figure out ways to bring your
music to the people," Batiste says. "You want to play for people who might have never
considered going to a concert. You want to destroy their stereotypes of what they might
think a live music performance is all about. You also want to bring the music to those who
might not ever hear it and share the culture with them. Ultimately, it's about breaking
down the walls between the musicians and the audience and showing them that we all share
the same humanity."
As strong an album as Social Music is, Batiste believes that live
performance is where his vision can most truly be set in motion and realized. His goals are
of the highest order. "For me, what we're doing is a calling, bringing people to an
understanding that loving one another is how we are called to be," he says. "I want to help
people find truth. I can give you a picture. When you go to a show to hear us, the venue is
one way when you get there, but when you leave it's totally transformed. It's become almost
like a religious ceremony, a communal experience. People leave crying and laughing-there's
a buzz. People stand around when it's done because they just don't want to go home.
Hopefully this experience will bring them to a greater understanding of the truth."
At 23, Eddie Barbash is one of the most exciting, sought-after young alto saxophonists of
his generation. He has performed at major clubs and festivals worldwide, principally as a
member of Stay Human, but also as a multi-reed man for drumming legend Chico Hamilton in
Chico's sextet, Euphoria. In 2009, he founded The Tres Amigos, a sax-guitar-accordion trio
that performs diverse repertoire using close-harmony vocal arrangements and instrumental
improvisation. Barbash has performed with a range of artists, including Wynton Marsalis,
Wycliffe Gordon, Terence Blanchard, Paquito D'Rivera, and Kurt Elling. He is a graduate of
The Juilliard School.
At 22, Ibanda Ruhumbika is quickly becoming one of the most recognized tuba players in the
United States. A native of Athens, Georgia, he has won numerous national and international
music competitions, in addition to being featured on several nationwide television and
radio broadcasts. Ruhumbika has been a soloist with members of the New York Philharmonic
brass section as well as with "The President's Own" Marine Band. Classically trained, he is
well versed in jazz and other styles of music. He is a member of Stay Human, where he is
helping to revolutionize the role of the tuba in the modern-day jazz ensemble.
Joe Saylor is quickly being recognized as one of the most dynamic and exciting
percussionists. Playing music since the age of three, Saylor has performed with such jazz
legend as Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, Dwayne Dolphin, Steve Wilson, Joe Lovano, Jon
Faddis, Slide Hampton, and Ellis Marsalis. An avid advocate of music education, Saylor has
conducted jazz-education workshops at many of the country's finest institutions, including
Stanford University. In 2010, he was featured in the second season of HBO's hit show
Treme, a television series about the lives of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina. Saylor is a member of Stay Human and a graduate of both the Manhattan School of
Music and The Juilliard School.
Barry Stephenson is an in-demand bassist in New Orleans and throughout the southeastern
United States. Originally from Miami, he studied at Florida State University with the
legendary Marcus Roberts and later attended the Centrum Jazz Workshop on full scholarship.
He completed his graduate studies at the University of New Orleans under the tutelage of
Roland Guerin, and also participated in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Residency Program,
Ravinia's Steans Music Institute, and the Catskill Jazz Factory. Stephenson has had the
honor to swing with such notable musicians as Albert "Tootie" Heath; Wynton, Branford,
Ellis, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis; Trombone Shorty; and Irvin Mayfield. He also leads the
funk band Barry Stephenson's Pocket and the jazz trio Troika. He is currently working on
his first album.
Winner of the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Award, Jamison Ross is a native of
Jacksonville, Florida, and a graduate of Florida State University. Growing up in church as
a pastor's son, his love for music is deeply rooted in the feeling of joy. Ross currently
resides in New Orleans, where he received his master's in jazz studies. He has participated
in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Residency Program, toured the world with Carmen Lundy's
Grammy-winning band, and also worked with Billy Childs, Wynton Marsalis, and Wycliffe
Gordon, among others. Ross is currently touring with Henry Butler and Wes Anderson, in
addition to Jon Batiste and Stay Human.