March 7th, 2008
Looking back on my days as an undergraduate music student at Southern University, I can remember listening in awe to Alvin Batiste, affectionately known as “Mr. Bat,” as he rehearsed the university jazz band. Even stumbling upon the sound of Mr. Bat practicing on solo clarinet was an unforgettable experience. I remember walking through the music annex with a friend during freshman year. We both played clarinet and were on our way to practice when we heard someone in the middle of some serious “shedding” (the term used at Southern for practicing) on clarinet. Once we arrived at the source of the shedding, we just stood there for a few minutes watching Mr. Bat in awe. Needless to say, we quickly hid our clarinets and began to slowly back away from his studio door.
Avant garde clarinet extraordinaire Alvin Batiste was born November 7, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was first introduced to the clarinet by his father. As the story goes, the summer before entering Booker T. Washington High School Batiste’s father handed him a clarinet. Not taking the instrument seriously, he put it down after only tooting a couple of notes. Later, however, while visiting a cousin, Batiste heard a recording of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” From that point on he was inspired, and eventually pursued both a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Southern University and a Master’s degree in clarinet performance and composition from Louisiana State University. During his college tenure, Batiste became the first African American soloist to be featured with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Throughout his career, Batiste performed with some of the most recognized jazz musicians of the twentieth century, including such giants as Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, Joe Robichaux, and Ray Charles (just to name a few). In addition to his talents as a player, Batiste was also interested in jazz education. He founded the jazz program at Southern University in 1969 and assisted in the creation of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he also headed up the jazz program whose alumni include the Marsalis brothers. Tragically, Alvin Batiste suffered a heart attack on May 6, 2007 at the age of 74 and died hours before a scheduled performance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste takes the listener through 10 audibly delectable tracks steeped in the flavors of New Orleans. The feast begins with the beautifully garnished appetizer of “Clean Air.” Before tasting the morsel, you notice its vibrant coloration, which lures you in. You begin to nibble and find yourself throwing your head back with your eyes closed as you savor the crisp vocals of Edward Perkins and the pristine playing of Batiste. “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” is the Merlot; you begin to blush as the clarinet cleanses your pallet with its mellow mood and smooth vibrato. The meal arrives with the sweet aroma of “Edith” and tangy zest of “The Latest.” After the main course, “Skylark” lulls you into a trance and convinces you to eat some more. At this point the doors of the kitchen swing open and in comes the dessert. “What about my diet?” you ask, trying to fight the urge for more. But its no use. “Bat Trad” and “Salty Dogs” are placed in front of you for dessert, and you’re quickly whisked away to the French Quarter where your diet no longer exists.
In the accompanying CD liner notes, Bob Blumenthal states that “the feeling of family permeated the recording sessions.” Batiste is joined by friend Edward Perkins (vocals), student Branford Marsalis (saxophones), student Herlin Riley (drums), Russell Malone (guitar), Lawrence Fields (piano), and Ricardo Rodriguez (bass). Further evidence of the family presence is exemplified through “My Life is a Tree,” the lyrics of which were written by Edith Batiste (Alvin’s wife). The words for “Everloving Star” were supplied by their son Maynard, and Batiste’s grandson’s nick name supplied inspiration for “Bumps.”
Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste is a great CD for the masses, providing the uninitiated listener with a captivating and yet all too brief encounter with a musical legend. The last stanza of the Southern University Alma Mater reads “O Southern, Dear Southern, Thy name will ever be, as mighty as the river that flows on to the sea.” Just as mighty and enduring as that river is the name of Alvin Batiste and his great musical legacy, and it will flow on through recordings like this one.
Posted by Terence La Nier II
Review Genre(s): Jazz