[8 July 2014]
Musician and band leader Jon Batiste is a youthful, vibrant performer from Louisiana who was caught up in the jazz world at a young age. Now, as he occupies the role of Associate Artistic Director at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Batiste still takes time to tour with his band Stay Human, to connect with followers and to earn new fans along the way. And by connect with followers, I mean more than simply the “followers” that are found on social media or who buy his albums, I mean the folks who will literally trail Batiste as he conducts a musical procession from the stage to the street.
Batiste’s free show at the Central Park Summerstage was a wild set that delved into all sorts of jazz, hip-hop, R&B and other musical influences, including a rendition of the folk staple “Saint James Infirmary”. One of the first recognizable inspired bits was a take on “Summertime”, recently famous by the band summertime favorites Sublime but really hailing back to Gershwin and Ella Fitzgerald. The opening extended medley saw Batiste step away from the stately Yamaha grand piano and lift up the much cheaper, branded plastic melodica of his as the band stood behind him. The members of Stay Human clearly share Batiste’s sensibilities and have fun with their performances, whipping up familiar pop music melodies during solos and preening like showmen on stage.
However, off stage is where Batiste and Stay Human really shine. For the lengthy conclusion, the band traversed the crowd but not without stopping in the center for at least five minutes and dipping low to create an intimate nook of music. Performing the entire time, Batiste had walked the band to the middle, graciously accepting kisses on the cheek from at least the two ladies I saw which shows just how receptive people are to Batiste’s soulful music. Convinced that the band would return to the stage to join their vocalist friend, many people remained by the stage rail awaiting more Batiste. Yet, unlike Beck who metaphorically knocked it out of the park a few days later, Batiste actually took his band, and a hundred-plus people, out of the venue playing their uplifting music (“I feel good, I feel great, I feel fine just being me”) all the way. Pausing near a lone woodwind player, Batiste played along with the fellow before the band picked up and continued to loop around the venue, never breaking from the singing and music. Everyone wanted to be a part of the mirth whether they were singing, waving their arms or taking selfies in front of the procession. Eventually though Batiste had to wrap things up, and as he reached the backstage area, the parade dispersed, leaving the musician to now be at the head of a receiving line of well-wishers, friends and new followers.
Check out a larger gallery of images on Facebook and tag folks you know! Also, you will find a complete listing of the CityParks Foundation Summerstage events at this page including Andrew Bird and Blood Orange.