THE REAL THING @ DIZZY'S CLUB COCA COLA
The first time I saw Jonathan Batiste perform, he was 17 years old and part of a hot 'n' sweaty Maurice Brown jam at the Funky Butt in New Orleans. He was one of two Hammond B3 players, along with two horns, bass, and drums, all crammed into a tiny space in the front of the club. It was a version of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance" that I still can't shake from my memory. (I'm not trying too hard, to be honest) The band smoked, as Maurice and his cats always do. But it was Jonathan that left the impression that particular night. Long arms that kept him further back from the keyboard than most, and a certain confidence in his playing that transcended the room, it was hard to keep your eyes off of him.
The next time was this past April and he was fronting his own trio in the Jazz Tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (photo taken by Sal) As a 20 year old musician, you're pretty much a seasoned veteran in New Orleans. Decked out in a three piece suit and suspenders, he wowed the already enthusiastic crowd with his Monk via Professor Longhair performance. A few Monk standards and some Batiste originals made up a set that was a perfect mix of everything you hope for in a Jazz Fest performance. It was the first set of the first day of the first weekend, and I had already found my moment of the week.
I saw Jonathan Batiste again last night, at Dizzy's Club. Backed by Ivan Taylor on bass and legendary drummer Louis Hayes, Batiste once again took over the room. Or tried to, at least. Unfortunately, a Monday night set by some upstart, isn't really as exciting for a family of 8 from Finland who were too busy devouring their chicken and ribs to notice any musicians on stage. The band was obviously thrown together for this performance, and while not quite as comfortable as he is with his usual trio, Batiste played off of Louis Hayes' lead and together they burned through "Green Chimneys" and "Evidence," two Monk tunes, as well as some originals off Batiste's new CD "Live At the Rubin Museum."
The highlight of the evening was when Batiste introduced 20 year old vocalist Jennifer Sanon. What came next was one one of the most beautiful performances in recent memory. They opened this portion of the set with an amazing rendition of "Good Morning Heartache." Sanon's reading of this Billie Holiday tune made the hair on my neck stand up. There was no oversinging and no vocal theatrics. Sanon sang this song as if she had been singing it her whole life. The crowd put down their wings and bleu cheese, and payed attention. Then came, "Embraceable You," "All Of Me," and an original called "Jen's Blues," all sung with the same grace and perfect pitch as the opening. It was hard to believe that this brilliant set of music was put together by two people who are not yet old enough to drink.
Keep your eyes and ears open for Jonathan Batiste and Jennifer Sanon. They are worth your time and money. And more importantly, they are making music that is pure and lasting. This is what I call "Back To Basics."