In just a few short hours, Jon Batiste will take over New York City’s NoMad Hotel for an extended residency, one that will treat audiences to nights of vibrant music, food and drink across a multitude of spaces. From bandstands to back alleys, the 28-year-old bandleader and his Stay Human ensemble have made it their mission to take music to new places– culturally, compositionally, and geographically.

Jon Batiste Bedford Avenue Scott Heins
Batiste has made street performances–he calls them “love riots”–his preferred method of jazz delivery; spontaneous mobile concerts that frequently wind their way through whole neighborhoods, bridging the gaps between New Orleans-style jazz funerals, busking, and old-fashioned riffing purely for the love of sound. Now, with the NoMad shows opening and his gig as the new CBS Late Show bandleader looming large on the horizon, Batiste spoke with Revive about his musical vision, the logistics of a love riot, and how being a New Orleans son still shapes him today. (And read more about his seven-night NoMad run here.)

Revive: How many love riots would you say you’ve done so far?

Jon Batiste: Oh man, I mean, we’ve done hundreds. We’ve done some in 2011 when we recorded the My Ny record that we put out that year and was recorded all in the streets and subways of New York. That was the genesis of Stay Human. Before that the band was just under my name and it wasn’t the marching instrumentation of the tuba, tambourine, saxophone and harmonoboard. When we made that album, we played throughout the summer of 2011 on the subways and in the streets, almost everyday, just building up the repertoire and finding the energy of what it all is–the love riot energy and social music energy. That summer alone we played maybe 50 love riots. And since 2011, who knows? I remember every time we played a show last year–and we were out for about nine months–and that was the longest tour that w’eve ever been on as a band, and that was something that, in every city and every country we went to there was something of a love riot that happened. I know that we’ve done a lot so far.

R: Could you pinpoint what makes your playing outside on the street a “love riot,” as opposed to, say, in New Orleans or in other cities where musicians play in the street? What’s the difference between a love riot and busking, and a love riot and what you might find in New Orleans? Is it a different creature in your mind?

JB: Yes. I think the difference with what we do is that we don’t ask for money and we all start in one place but are then mobile and we move. When we play in the subways we’ll move from car to car. And I think that the context of us doing that is different than busking because we really just want to bring them something that they may not have the chance to experience. And as far as the New Orleans tradition goes, all of the street music in New Orleans is tied to an occasion whether it’s a jazz funeral when someone dies, or someone is born, or there’s a barbecue. There are traditions–similar to Cuba and its rumba sessions–of people coming together and playing the drums. It’s tied to an occasion, and we’re out playing and it’s not tied to one. It’s more about just wanting to share music and bringing people together. There’s a lot of cultural baggage from the New Orleans tradition of second line and street music, and also the instrumentation is different. There’s a very specific instrumentation for brass bands in New Orleans, particularly with the tuba, the bass drum with a cymbal on the top that’s usually played by a guy with a mallet in one hand and a screwdriver or coat hanger in the other. And there’s a separate drummer who has a snare drum, and that comes from a tradition of marches and people playing at county fairs.

Jon Phillips Sousa was one of the great writers of marches, and that’s something that doesn’t happen as much anymore, but but military has bands and in New Orleans that tradition got funkified. But there’s a lot more of a historical depth that makes it a very specific thing when it happens in New Orleans, whereas when we’re doing it, we’re coming from the perspective of that energy being effective, and it brings people together. But, we’re now in the 21st Century with internet and all the different ways people are connected, through social media, and through social justice and how we’ve advance and still have a long way to go, but we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve realized we have in common and shouldn’t fight about. So we’re really about bringing people together like that.

R: That’s why we asked. “Love riot” kind of implies that you’re offering an antidote or alternative to an “anger riot” like what we’ve been seeing in Baltimore and other places. DO you see it as a reaction, in a sense, to the larger conversation that we’re having right now, or the larger breakdown in conversations that we’re having right now?

JB: Yes. It’s a part of that–that’s what it’s about. We think about the conversation that we’re having as a nation right now, we’re thinking about things–people are starting to think about things differently. More freely, more in an open perspective that welcomes people with differences. And then, there’s the rub there. People are also thinking about the race conversation and the police violence that’s been happening. It’s something that we’re talking about now and thinking over now, and there’s always been a soundtrack to every movement. The Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, even in history outside of the American tradition there’s been soundtracks to everything. And I think, right now, in this generation, we’ve experienced the need of music to remind us to believe in love and believe in the idea of equality, whether it be gender, race, background, finances or your family. There are so many conversations that are going on now, and I think the root of all of them is really that we’re all the more same than we are different. That’s going to help us answer a lot of these questions.

R: When you’re talking about using social media–that’s been quite a trend, for instance, in Egypt with people organizing. Do you have somebody, or are you guys using social media in real time in that sense to let people know “We’re doing something and it’s happening right now, everybody converge here”?

JB: We use social media in that same way, it’s exactly where we’re coming from. The idea that we can reach people, anywhere in the world, with the touch of a button. Just meet here, and let the magic happen. That’s the generation we’re in and it’s a beautiful thing about social media.

R: Talk to me a little bit about the practical musical aspect of this–for instance, you mentioned the instruments that you guys carry, which lend themselves to being portable. When you play the Nomad, will you have a stationary setup with your portable instruments handy?

JB: We have both. We have a stationary setup, we have portable instruments, we have all types of combinations between the two, and it’s a real collaboration between the restauranteurs’ food and drink being provided, from fried chicken to five star dining. There’s a technology component we’re collaborating with–it all creates an experience in the space that allows us to be mobile but also has a stationary setup where some people are in one place, but as we’re moving we can hear each other through wireless mics and in-ear monitors. It’s really the combination of many different things, and I think in that, the concept of “social music” and bringing art forms like jazz and classical music–bringing it to more people is going to come from collaborating outside the bounds of music.

R: And that portability has to affect the way you play and some of the musical choices you make. Do you find that after doing this so many times, you’re getting ideas from the street that you bring back to the bandstand or the studio in some way?

JB: I don’t consider the music to be anything more than the vehicle to create the end result, or the intent that you have. You use the music as a vehicle to make that happen, and if the intent is as simple as creating beautiful art or if you want to make people dance or bring them together, that’s my starting point. “Why are we doing this?”

And when I approach making a record or performing live, I’m just thinking about that. And then the rest of the things that happen usually are organic. They just come to me or one of the band members think of how we can achieve that intent, and then the music and presentation and all the collaborators that we run into and work with, they just become a part of that and we all form the vehicle to reach that intent. I don’t have a message beyond that. It’s organic in that way.

>Read more from Batiste’s interview at Okayplayer

>Info on the NoMad Hotel residency is available here.


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