SO...because it's Memorial day - and - because I told you that I would - todays blog will be about a man that very few of you have heard of and, as musicians, need to honor as one of the true musical heros of the later half of the 20th century and even more importantly a man that has pretty well guaranteed that quality music will carry on well into the future as a mentor, teacher, and gentle spirit for young men and women to follow.
First is a eulogy written by a lady in New Orleans and then a short thing that I wrote.
May 8, 2007
New Orleans Clarinetist Batiste Dies
By MARY FOSTER - AP
NEW ORLEANS (May 8) -- Clarinetist Alvin Batiste, who toured with Ray Charles, recorded with Branford Marsalis and taught pianist Henry Butler, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack. He was in his 70s.
Batiste died only hours before he was to perform with Harry Connick Jr. and Marsalis at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, festival officials said.
Marsalis' record label released Batiste's latest CD, "Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste," just a few weeks ago. Marsalis also played on the album.
Batiste, a jazz clarinetist, was considered one of the founders of the modern jazz scene in New Orleans. While his exact age was not immediately known, festival officials said he was born in New Orleans in 1932.
Batiste also wrote for and toured with Billy Cobham and Cannonball Adderley.
A longtime teacher at Southern University in Baton Rouge, he created the Batiste Jazz Institute - one of the first programs of its kind in the nation - and taught jazz at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
His students included Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Kent Jordan, Michael Ward, Herlin Riley, Charlie Singleton, Woodie Douglas and others.
"He was not only a teacher, he was my father away from home," Butler said. "He taught us about music, the history of music and the business of music. The ones who had the benefit of learning from him are better musicians and better people today."
Batiste toured with Charles in 1958, but remained largely unknown to the general population until he recorded with Clarinet Summit in the 1980s. The quartet also included John Carter, David Murray, and Jimmy Hamilton.
Batiste recorded an album, "Bayou Magic" in 1988, and made the 1993 album "Late." "Songs, Words and Messages, Connections" appeared in 1999.
The show at the jazz tent of the festival - "Marsalis Music honors Alvin Batiste & Bob French" - went on as planned. "The show will go on," festival spokesman Matthew Goldman said.
So, as most of you know, I am, first of all, a player. I've done this my entire life. For those that have had the dubious pleasure of working with me, you know that I am a total JERK!! My expectation is to work with people that are willing to put in every bit as much energy as me in all that we do together. I do not expect more...simply equal effort. This includes all aspects of what we do...including rehearsal (which in Austin is weirdly not something that most people are willing to consider - a subject for another blog). Rehearsal being an integral part of my musical experience from the first time I picked up a violin at age four (mercifully, this one didn't last too very long)!
Anyway, aside from playing with the great Sarah Pierce and my work as a producer and engineer, I production manage music festivals. One of them is Fest For All in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Over the past few years, I have worked with a ton of really great musicians/singers/songwriters. Of them all, I had the incredible honor of twice introducing Mr. Alvin Batiste to the audience. I am writing to share my last moment with him (early May, 2007) and the gift he gave me...and all of us.
When he was done with a most astounding set of music, having shared the stage with a band of absolute 'monsters' - the oldest of which was only seventeen, I helped him off the stage, told him how honored I was to be able to see him perform yet again, and thanked him for all that he had done. He smiled that huge smile, took my hand and said, "No, thank you, sir, for helping me! Your work today was perfect" He complimented me??? He called me 'sir!' This impeccably dressed, articulate, elegant icon of all that is great in jazz in the later half of the Twentieth Century, calling a most scruffy looking stage manager 'sir?' Then, he turned away and called his band together:
"If you all could be available, I would really like to get together and rehearse a little before we perform tomorrow (the tribute dedicated to him at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival). "Lets see if we can make it just a little better!"
This was a seventy-five year old man. A living legend. Still playing as well as he ever played...and the last thing I heard him say was "Lets see if we can make it just a little better!" Alvin Batiste had nothing to prove. He had done 'his thing' to a level way above that which most of us can even imagine. He finished his gig. He could go home with his wife of 53 years, Edith Chatters Batiste, and relax before performing for his tribute the next day. Easy as pie. Instead, he wanted to get his band together and rehearse.
The next day as I was driving to the festival site, I got a call from a good friend. He told me that during the night, Alvin Batiste had passed.
I will carry his words with me for the rest of my life. To aspire to his level of commitment to excellence. To feel his level of passion for his craft. To be willing to share it all with whomever had 'the dream.' I never knew Alvin Batiste. I never had the honor of studying with him....I met the man only twice. Yet in a couple sentences overheard, he did more to reinforce all that I have been taught, all that I have known, all that I have believed in my 58 year love affair with my music than any other single person.
As the great Henry Butler said...
"The ones who had the benefit of learning from him are better musicians and better people today."
I guess maybe I actually did have a chance to study with Mr. Batiste. I will aspire to become just a little better.
Thank you and God bless you Mr. Alvin Batiste.