For musician Jonathan Batiste, it’s all about constantly being on the move – even when he’s onstage.
The spry jazz man is known to be very animated at his shows, often opting to pull out a melodica – that keyboarded wind instrument jazz artists such as Herbie Hancock have put to good use – when he’s done sitting behind a piano. “I like the melodica a lot,” says Batiste, 27, on the phone from his New York base. “Yeah, I like to get up from the piano. So that’s why I play it.”
He and his band, Stay Human, are also not shy about jumping off the stage and interacting with the audience. “It comes from just wanting to reach out to people, and understanding that the power in music can really transform a room,” he says. “And I wanted to do that to the highest level, so you have to be engaging. And I think that’s a big part of engaging people – make it an experience.”
Considering that he grew up in a family of well-established musicians, it’s always been Batiste’s mission to stand out from the rest of the pack. Born and raised in Kenner, La., the young Batiste already knew his way around the piano way before he hit his teens. By the time he was 17, he released his first album, “Times in New Orleans.”
For the past decade, the Juilliard-trained musician has made the Big Apple his home – finding a way to take that rousing, New Orleans-style jazz he grew up with and mash it up with East Coast jazz.
Although Batiste has the sort of vibrant sound and extroverted attitude that would make purists question just how jazzy he truly is, he doesn’t fret about being an authentic jazz artist – because he knows he is. “Well, a lot of times, people worry about that, and I don’t really worry about it,” he says. “Because I think that it’s such an unimportant question in regards to what the music actually sounds like.”
In fact, his last album, last year’s “Social Music,” includes a for-the-haters interlude featuring the voice of the late, great Jelly Roll Morton, breaking down how jazz has been influenced by everything from operas to overtures.
“I think that the interlude is something that I feel kind of addresses that question, in a way that I like to consider to be a thorough way from one of the jazz forefathers, Jelly Roll Morton,” he says. “And he has a definition of it that I really liked. ... I mean, we don’t even consider what jazz is when we’re playing, because we don’t necessarily think that all of what we do is jazz. It’s based in jazz, but it’s not really all jazz.”