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Jon Batiste on Social Music

What is Social Music? Find out in Shannon Effinger's insightful piece on Mr. Batiste and his latest project. Mr. Batiste and Stay Human perform in Zankel Hall one week from today—Saturday, October 12 at 9 PM.


It’s a tale of two cities revisited. Through music, Jon Batiste finds a deeper connection between New Orleans and New York City that draws from both his personal life and professional career. Born in Kenner, Louisiana, Batiste was surrounded by music from the very beginning. “Due to my family and being from around New Orleans and Kenner, I was definitely more rooted in conserving the jazz tradition,” says the 26-year-old pianist. Batiste soon discovered, however, that not too many young people have that kind of unique experience growing up. And as his influences grew and evolved over time, so did his mission.

His latest effort, Social Music, is not only a culmination of Batiste and Stay Human’s varied influences, but it also captures the band’s larger goal of finding that shared bond among different listeners. “The purpose of Stay Human isn’t really about the genre of music that we’re playing, but more about bringing people together from all different backgrounds and cultures to share an experience through the power of live music.”

Batiste exploits the notion of making it interactive, whether it’s grabbing a person from the audience or starting a performance from the street and bringing it into the venue. “You get a real feel for the connectivity for all of the traditions of music (hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll, electronica, jazz) and the humanity that connects everybody. It becomes communal, so to speak.”

The concept for Social Music dates back to 2009 with the release of an EP sampler entitled The Amazing Jon Batiste!. “At the time, the sound was coming together and I was breaking away from just playing traditional jazz,” says Batiste. As the sound grew, so did the number of players involved. What began as a jazz trio would ultimately become a sextet: electric and acoustic bass, two saxophones, drums, and piano.

While he joins the growing list of jazz artists like Robert Glasper and Christian aTunde Adjuah who continue to challenge the notion of what this music can sound like, Batiste still preserves the jazz tradition and draws from his Louisiana roots, largely through his work as the artistic director at large for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

“That’s another really important job for the future of the music,” says Batiste. “There aren’t a lot of young people in the role of administrator or educator who infuse their community with the tradition of the music. There’s no one place, like Harlem or New Orleans once were, where anybody can go to experience or hear jazz—places where the music was incubated to go out and change the world.”

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Shannon Effinger has written for NPR Jazz, DownBeat, and other major publications. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she is currently developing her first book on jazz, race, and politics.