Sunday, May 06, 2007

R.I.P., New Orleans Jazzer Alvin Batiste

Alvin Batiste, a stellar jazz clarinetist, incredibly influential music educator and stalwart of the New Orleans jazz community, died early Sunday morning (see story, from Yahoo News, below). He had been scheduled to play today, the last day of the second weekend of this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, with two other Crescent City musicians -- pianist-singer Harry Connick, Jr. and saxopohonist Branford Marsalis.

Batiste's latest CD, Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste, features former students Marsalis (who produced the CD) and drummer Herlin Riley, plus guitarist Russell Malone.

Last week, when I was at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, a fellow concertgoer at the Jazz Tent pointed to a woman roaming around backstage during the set by saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan, and said that the woman was Alvin Batiste's wife, Edith. Apparently, there is a connection between the Batiste and Jordan families. If I'm remembering this correctly ... Edith Batiste is the brother of Kidd Jordan, meaning that Batiste was uncle to Jordan's well-known jazz kids -- flutist Kent, who played with Kidd's Improvisational Arts Society last week, trumpeter Marlon (who survived Katrina on a rooftop, staying there for 24 hours or so before he was rescued) and singer Stephanie.

According to Batiste's myspace site,Soulmates, a project pairing the clarinetist with his poet wife Edith is slated for release in June.

BTW, Batiste is seen on one of the five oversized portraits hanging above the jazz tent at this year's Jazz Fest.

Below from Yahoo News
Veteran clarinetist Alvin Batiste passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning.

Batiste was scheduled to perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Sunday.

Batiste taught music at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where her created the Batiste Jazz Institute and currently at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts where served as lead teacher in jazz instrumental music.

Several well-known musicians studied under Batiste while at Southern University: Randy Jackson, Donald Harrison, Henry Butler, Kent Jordan, Micheal Ward, Herlin Riley, Cameo and Brandford Marsalis.

Batiste toured with Ray Charles in 1958, but was considered an obscure legend until he made three albums with Clarinet Summit in the 1980s -- a quartet also including John Carter (news, bio, voting record), David Murray, and Jimmy Hamilton.

An early album billed Batiste as a "Legendary Pioneer of Jazz."

Below from a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune

Alvin Batiste, the veteran modern jazz clarinetist, composer and educator, died early Sunday of an apparent heart attack, hours before he was scheduled to perform with Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Marsalis' record label released Mr. Batiste's latest CD, "Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste," weeks ago. Consisting mostly of Mr. Batiste's original compositions, it features two of his better-known former students, Marsalis and drummer Herlin Riley.

Mr. Batiste was born in New Orleans in 1932. He was first introduced to the clarinet by his father, who played traditional jazz. Mr. Batiste's modern approach to the instrument was formed in part by listening to Charlie Parker albums. Alvin Batiste whistles away on the clarinet as he and the Jazztronauts work the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent on Friday during the second week of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The fest opens today at 11 a.m.; warm temperatures and partly sunny skies are forecast.

He went on to largely define the improvisational role of the clarinet, an instrument generally associated with traditional jazz, in modern bebop. Along with Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, drummer Ed Blackwell and others, he helped establish a modern jazz community in New Orleans.

He composed orchestral works and three operas, as well as the textbook "The Root Progression System." He toured with or wrote songs for Ray Charles, Billy Cobham and Cannonball Adderley, among many others.

In college, he became the first African-American soloist with the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra. He earned a master's degree from Louisiana State University in performance and composition. Student teaching as part of that program introduced him to a new calling in the classroom. His most enduring legacy may be the scores of students he instructed in the ways of modern jazz.

He co-founded the jazz studies program at Southern University, among the first of its kind in the nation, and was instrumental in the formation of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he continued to teach.

At Southern, his students included "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson, pianist Henry Butler and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. Mr. Batiste famously dismissed Branford Marsalis from the Southern jazz band, believing he had not yet committed himself to the music. Marsalis later credited that dismissal with helping him to focus on his career.

Today at 3:35 p.m., Mr. Batiste was scheduled to perform in the AT&T/WWOZ Jazz Tent at Jazzfest alongside Marsalis, Connick and drummer Bob French, another Marsalis Music honoree. The set, however, turned into a tribute to Mr. Batiste, with the crowd spilling out of the tent long before the concert began.

WWOZ DJ and documentarian David Kunian got on stage first to announce that Mr. Batiste "had left us."

Kunian said that Herbie Hancock had just a few weeks ago called Mr. Batiste the "world's greatest jazz educator" for his role as a teacher at SUNO, in New Orleans public schools, and at NOCCA, whose staff he joined at the age of 70.

Stephanie Jordan and her brother, trumpeter Marlon Jordan, also took the stage for a touching performance on Mr. Batiste's behalf. The packed crowd, clad in wild print shirts and straw hats, jumped to their feet to give the pair a standing ovation.

Jordan said Batiste was her uncle, and had introduced her mother and father.

"When you think of the word love, think of Alvin Batiste," she said. "When you think of the word kindness, think of Alvin Batiste. When you find yourself giving unconditionally with your entire heart, then you know you have been touched by Alvin Batiste."

HERE's a video with Jazz Fest head Quint Davis remembering Alvin Batiste

No comments: