Q. You are known to perform music from many different genres. Who is your audience?
A. We see a range of people from the older age group to the young jazz listeners who are getting into jazz music, the die-hard [fans]. And then there are those who are into the experience, so to speak, who aren’t jazz listeners at all. They’re just people who have found us in some way and feel what it is that we present and they’re of all ages as well.
Also, in every city that we go to there’s a school or a community center that we visit so those people often times are part of the show. We even try to incorporate them whenever possible, the young people. There’s truly a range of people who surprise me at every show…
What kind of experience are you aiming to offer?
I like to figure out how to create a unique experience that fills a need. When you think about the arts and what’s going on in the world, there’s a lot of things that music can be a catalyst to change and a driving force for making something in the world a lot better. Social music is a concept that I came up with to address a lot of things that I see that I feel that could be enhanced through music and expression.
Do you look to create crossover songs to reach more people?
I used to think about that a lot when I was studying, but nowadays, I don’t really think about it that much. I try not to think about what to do within a specific box or specific style or genre. I just want to make the most honest musical expression that I can that will fill that void that I see. And you know it kind of can go in many directions because you really have to trust the moment and follow your creativity.
It’s often said that musicians like Herbie Hancock were able to crossover because they embraced technology. Is technology something you think about while creating music?
Well, I think that when you talk about Herbie Hancock, he was consciously exploring things that were outside jazz and therefore outside of how people originally perceived him. He came from playing with Miles Davis who was one of the greatest jazz musicians in the world and Miles, in his career, went in many different directions that made a lot of people see him in a different way. Some people were upset, some people loved it, but it was just very direct to what he wanted to do, no matter what people said or thought. And I think that Herbie doing that, it kind of led him in a similar direction.
But the difference is that with what’s going on now in the world, and it’s been around for so many years, and so many things have happened musically, and things are now so much more connected than it’s ever been and so accessible through the internet and through all of the things that we have at our disposal. Technology has made the world a much smaller place. Perhaps to the point that now, it’s almost inevitable in the sense of artistic creation to go in one specific direction, musically, unless you make that conscious decision…I guess I wonder sometimes why you’d want to make a decision to stay in one specific genre or musical direction.
You wrote a lot of the music for “Social Music” yourself. Do you ever think about working with other artists or writers?
Yes I’ve written a lot of things with other people and written and arranged music for other people as well. And you know that’s a really specific kind of thing, even though I’ve done it a lot, it hasn’t appeared very much on the projects I’ve put out. And that’s because you have to find someone who really understands your vision and can bring that to life in a way that makes you feel that you need them, that you can’t do it without them. Take [Richard] Rodgers and [Lorenz] Hart, the song writing team, or Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington—there’s a range of people in history have found those key collaborators. I have those in different ways, but in writing, I’ve yet to really find that.
How do go about finding these types of people?
I think that the relationship you have with the person will tell you a lot about your musical creation and what you could possibly do if you were to collaborate. So that’s definitely factor—how do we relate, as people, away from the music? The other thing is that if I don’t interact with the person, I listen for people’s music that moves me in the way that I want my music to move other people, or has an element that I was trying to reach but maybe hadn’t been able to reach yet.
So then I look around and see who has those elements in their own way and can probably take that and adapt to my vision—so it’s really a question of can we musically get along, not necessarily how great they are or how well they do their thing. Because there’s a lot of people out there who are doing a lot of great stuff that moves me and has cool elements that I like, but as far as being able to adapt those to my concepts, that’s a different thing.
So who are some people you think would share your vision?
Well, I’ve done a lot of writing with people like Aloe Blacc, who’s a vocalist, and we’ve written a lot of songs together, and that was something that I enjoyed in our songwriting. In jazz specifically, I love Sullivan Fortner, he’s an amazing musician and he’s very creative. All the guys I play with in my band who I consider to be collaborators who individually move me in their own right.
Jonathan Batiste is a singer, pianist, and entertainer from Kenner, Louisiana. A child prodigy, he released his first album at age 17 and went on to study jazz at the Juilliard School in New York City. Batiste was quickly recognized for his early contributions, receiving the “Movado Future Legend Award” in 2006 at age 20. Today at only 28 years of age, Batiste has already performed with countless musical luminaries, from Wynton Marsalis and Prince, to Aloe Blacc and Lenny Kravitz. Now the leader of the band, Stay Human, the Batiste and his group have released several top charting albums in recent years and have been noted for the introduction of a musical experience Batiste dubs “Social Music,” which involves active engagement with audiences in theaters, streets, and even subway cars.