Music Times was fortunate in that figureheads such as Stephen Colbert didn't book media passes for Lollapalooza, which allowed us to get a chance to interview Jon Batiste. The jazz and general music expert (he got his Master's degree in music from Juilliard and serves as the Associate Artistic Director for the National Jazz Museum) played The Grove stage with his band Stay Human at Chicago's premier music festival before swinging by to chat with us. Check it out.
(Batiste plays a ditty on his melodica while we get set up with the microphone)
Music Times: It's going to be tough to type that out when we get around to putting it in print, but we'll try our best. How was the crowd this morning?
Jon Batiste: It was great. They embraced us and were very warm. We went into the crowd, we played onstage and we really had our music blaring through the speakers, you know?
MT: You were the second act to play a melodica that we've seen so far at Lollapalooza (along with Francisca Valenzuela's keyboardist)...It's not quite a "mainstream" instrument yet. Could you explain it a bit to us?
JB: It's like a harmonica and a keyboard had a baby. You have the reeds in the back, and they're actually made by the company that made the first harmonica, which is Hohner. That was in the '40's and then they started to make these things. Of course the harmonica is a much more popularized instrument but there have been people that have played the melodica. Not a lot, but if you look at reggae music, mostly in background parts...not anything that's prominent.
MT: Looking at your music from the jazz front, Trombone Shorty makes a lot of appearances at festivals and yourself as well. What advice would you give to other jazz performers who want to play in a festival setting?
JB: People go to a concert to listen to music. They go to hear what's onstage. People don't come to festivals and say "I wanna listen to music today, but I won't listen to it if it's jazz." Or if it's classical, or if it's whatever. They go and they want to see good music. So seek out the opportunities to play for these people. Don't stay within the realm of what's predictable or conventional. And then, I would say, make good music! One of the things we've been doing for years with the Social Music album is to not even worry about a venue. We play on the subway. We made an album on the subway actually called My N.Y., which was recorded on the train or on street corners. We've played ski slopes and all over the world in different public squares, in restaurants, in people's houses, in other moving vehicles. When you bring music to people and you give them an experience, they'll never forget the way that made them feel. That opens their mind to listen to music they otherwise thought they wouldn't enjoy.
MT: You brought up recording in the subway...The MTA isn't a group that likes to mess around. Did you seek out permission or catch any flack?
JB: No, we were very renegade in our approach. The reason being is we didn't want it to come across as an official performance or busking. We would literally go into a car and play for 30 minutes, we wouldn't ask for any money and we were playing for people who weren't expecting to hear music. At the end of it, that's how a true bond was made. You have to share music with people in a way that comes from the heart. No matter where we play...we played Carnegie Hall, we played here at Lollapalooza. We played at Bonnaroo the other day, we played the Middle East even, Doha and Beirut.
MT: You're based out of New York City, which we'd go as far as to say is the jazz capital of the world. But Chicago has a great jazz history of its own. Can you recommend any Chicago jazz artists for the noobs out there?
JB: I just did a playlist for Beats Music and Spotify called "Jazz 101" and I was thinking about this very hard. There's a trumpeter to check out, Maurice Brown. He's a jazz trumpeter who plays all different sorts of jazz. He plays with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi now. He's a great trumpeter from Chicago. The Art Ensemble of Chicago...it's more of an avant garde sound but the energy is incredible. I really think those are two Chicago-based jazz artists that I would check out. I used to play here a lot when I was a teenager, a place called the Green Mill...I had a chance to meet all those guys and they were really cool.