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An Interview with Jon Batiste

2021–2022 Perspectives Artist

Oscar-winning composer, musician, bandleader, and cultural ambassador Jon Batiste defies all categories. From his signature “love riot” community performances to his compositions for orchestra and a variety of ensembles, he creates history on television and film, as well as in the recording studio. Batiste’s artistic vision is timeless, as strongly rooted in our musical ancestors as it is in the urgent cultural moment. Before returning to the Hall for the final events of his 2021–2022 series, Batiste discussed the importance of music and his platform as a Perspectives artist.

How would you describe your Carnegie Hall series?

My Perspectives series is about making history. I want to do something that has never been done at Carnegie Hall. And as we stand on the shoulders of giants, I really want to take what they did and build on it and extend it.

What does having your own Perspectives series mean to you as a musician?

Being in the epicenter of New York City and expressing yourself as an artist is a dream for many. It’s one of the hubs of art and culture in the world and has been for many years. Carnegie Hall represents all that is possible. It provides an opportunity for an artist to live out a dream. And that inspires me to go even higher, and it also pushes me to want to make my mark—there’s such a pantheon of greatness that’s existed in this space.

Your artistry has always been a reflection of the world around you, and that’s something that is a hallmark of your events at the Hall.

As artists, we should always be speaking to the times that we’re in and projecting what could be better. American Symphony— which is really the culmination of my Perspectives in May— combines orchestral music with big band and instrumentation based on the marching band tradition. It’s the biggest large- form work I’ve ever written. It is really something that encompasses what it means to be within the ideal of Americanism. The question at the center of this new composition is whether or not we are up to the task of democracy.

You began your series last February in Zankel Hall with a concert that highlighted your philosophy of “social music.”

Something that’s big for me is the concept of “social music,” going into the places of ritual in the community, places of worship—different areas of space where people coexist—and fostering even deeper community through music. Zankel Hall was phenomenal for that because it’s an acoustic environment that is really intimate. You can feel the audience and you can feel the city around you. And I think that the idea of what I wanted to present is all people making music based on life experience. Music is life and that’s what I wanted the concert to represent.

One of the unexpected collaborations of your series is a performance with a classical orchestra.

I believe there’s such a strong tradition in what we consider to be classical music that is overlooked, particularly with American descendants of slaves at the center of it. And an ensemble like the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra—celebrating the contributions of classical musicians of African descent— really speaks volumes. We’re going to make history—this is not something to be missed.

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Photography: Batiste by Gabriela Herman.

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