Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alvin Batiste

Alvin Batiste-Bayou Magic



Here:  bayouMagic

Alvin Batiste

Alvin Batiste was a jazz clarinetist from New Orleans. He was known for his great contributions to jazz education as well as his non-traditional use of the clarinet, utilizing modern and avant garde harmony on an instrument that is generally restricted to traditional jazz and dixieland settings. Though often under-recognized, Batiste has played with some of jazz’s biggest names in addition to having taught generations of outstanding musicians. Alvin Batiste was born November 7th, 1932. He began playing clarinet sometime shortly before high school. He recounts that he began taking it seriously after hearing Charlie Parker for the first time at his cousin Harold Batiste’s (alto saxophonist and composer) home the summer before he began high school. Alvin attended Booker T. Washington High School, home to some of his peers Joe Newman (trumpet), Benny Powell (trombone), Salvadore Doucette (piano), Ed Blackwell (drums), and fellow clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. Batiste cites Hamilton as one of his earliest influences, “he was really one of my heroes because Duke used to come play at my high school auditorium and I used to carry Jimmy Hamilton's clarinet so I could get in and listen to him warm up and enjoy the music... when I got a gig with the Ellington band it was because Mercer Ellington heard me and said... hey you remind me of Jimmy”. Batiste would later invite Hamilton to be a part of the 1985 “Clarinet Summit” recording for India Navigation. Batiste also cites the great New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Bechet, an obvious influence of any clarinetist. After high school, Batiste earned his undergraduate degree from Southern University and received his master’s degree from Louisiana State University. Batiste would later return to Southern University in 1969 to help found their Jazz Institute. In the mid 50s, Batiste moved to Los Angeles to join his peers Blackwell, Harold, and Ellis Marsalis (piano). During this time he also played with legendary pioneer of free jazz Ornette Coleman (alto sax). In 2003, Ornette played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival and invited Batiste to play on the set. Batiste also briefly toured with the Ray Charles orchestra in 1958, though he mainly played tenor saxophone and various woodwinds rather than clarinet. He was also featured on Cannonball Adderly’s (alto sax) final record “Lovers” (1975, Fantasy) playing electric clarinet, flute, and tenor sax. His compostions Chatterbox and Mozart’in, a play on Batiste’s nickname: Mozot, were featured on Adderly’s record “In the Bag” that featured Batiste’s New Orleans peers Ellis Marsalis, Nat Perrilat (tenor sax), and James Black (drums). In 1977-78, Batiste recorded two albums with fusion drummer Billy Cobham, “Magic” and “Simplicity of Expression Depth of Thought”. These recordings also featured Batiste’s students Randy Jackson (electric bass), Ray Mouton and Charles Singleton (guitars). As previously stated, Batiste helped to found the Southern University Jazz Institute in 1969. The fledgling program included Henry Butler (piano), Julius Farmer (bass), Herman Jackson (drums), George Pack, Kirk Ford (tenor sax), Terrel Jackson, and Reginald Houston (baritone sax). The school’s Jaguar Jazz Ensemble began playing regional and national competitions. They began receiving national attention, receiving praise form the likes of Downbeat Magazine and trumpet player and producer Quincy Jones. Southern University was home to an impressive list of students including, in addition to those already mentioned, Branford Marsalis (tenor sax), Donald Harrison (alto sax), Reginald Veal (bass), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Roland Guerin (bass), Quamon Fowler (tenor sax), Troy Davis (drums), Kent Jordan (flute), Herlin Riley (drums), Wess Anderson (alto sax), Jonathan Bloom (percussion), Chris Severin (bass), Michael Ward (clarinet), and many others. In 2003, Batiste became the head of the Jazz program at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, teaching a whole new generation of New Orleans jazz musicians. In 1971, Batiste began developing “The Root Progression” which would be his trademark teaching system. The core of the Root Progression was a collection of increasing intervals. The exercise would have the player first move up an octave in halfsteps, then down in whole steps, up half-whole, down half-whole, up minor thirds, down major thirds, up fourths, then tritones going up chromatically, and finally fifths up whole steps. The idea was to then have the player take a melodic motif and then have him transpose this motif through the intervals of the root progression. This exercise would provide the player with master transposition technique as well as an advanced sense of harmony. Other trademark exercises include “The Jazz Poem”, a collection of diverse rhythms that are assigned unique syllables so that they are easily discerned and memorized by the student. In March 2007, Batiste published “The Root Progression Process 3.0 (The Fundamentals for 20th Century African American Music)” which is a collection of such exercises as well as charts of many of Batiste’s classic compositions. Alvin Batiste’s work as a bandleader has been criminally under-recorded, due largely to the time constraints of being a full-time teacher. After his “Clarinet Summit” recordings in the 1980s, with fellow clarinetists John Carter, David Murray, and the aforementioned Jimmy Hamilton, India Navigation released “Bayou Magic” in 1988. “Bayou Magic” saw Batiste in a quartet setting (clarinet, piano, bass, drums) with sparse use of his electric clarinet. “Bayou Magic” also featured Batiste’s composition “Imp and Perry” a re-melodicization of John Coltrane’s classic composition “Countdown”. The harmonic structure of “Countdown” is very complex and challenging for the player to improvise over. Batiste would re-use this harmonic concept in several other compositions including “Spy Boy”, and “Cochise” (a re-melodicization of the jazz standard “Cherokee” with “Countdown” chord changes over the bridge). Batiste once met Coltrane and asked him how to approach songs such as “Giant Steps” and “Countdown” but Coltrane didn’t want to answer because those works were in his past and he was no longer dealing with such concepts. Batiste also borrowed heavily from Coltrane in his use of fourths in improvising, a concept that is also dealt with in the Root Progression. Batiste later released “Late” (1993, Columbia) followed by “Songs, Words, and Messages, Connections” (1999, SLM). These recordings often featured former students. Batiste’s band, the Jazztronauts, tended to also feature students. Batiste also wrote several jazz symphonies throughout his career. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) even commissioned Batiste to compose a Concerto for African instruments and orchestra. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Batiste was forced to move to Baton Rouge. Shortly afterwards, former student Branford Marsalis offered to help record Batiste as one of the first installments of the Marsalis Music Honors Series. The result was 2007’s “Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste”, the recording that would prove to be his last. On May 6th 2007, the night before Batiste was scheduled to play at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Alvin Batiste tragically passed away at the age of 74. The performance went ahead as scheduled, serving as a funeral/tribute to the jazz legend. Many came out to pay respects, in addition to performing, including Harry Connick Jr (piano), Branford Marsalis, Kent Jordan, Stephanie Jordan (vocals), as well as Batiste’s final band of Jazztronauts, then NOCCA students, Max Moran (bass), Joe Dyson (drums), and Conun Pappas (piano). It was a fitting farewell for a man who had done so much for his music, his students, and his city.

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