Batiste's most recent CD (Marsalis Music Honors), is produced by student Branford Marsalis, "I think he [Branford] wanted to do an old and a new kind of thingeveryone was younger than me." One listen is quick evidence that Batiste's playing is still a clarinet clinic. In the context of these younger musicians, that include Riley and Marsalis, along with vocalist Ed Perkins, the session surprises with its contemporary sound. This is in no small part due to the presence of young musicians such as pianist Lawrence Field, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez and guitarist Russell Malone. A true family affair, Batiste's wife adds lyrics to "My Life is a Tree" and provides the title for a lovely ballad in her honor, "Edith". Batiste's son Maynard penned touching lyrics to the bluesy "Ever Loving Star" while the quirky rhythm of swinger "Bumps" was inspired by Batiste's grandson's nickname. Nuggets like his classic "Salty Dog", from days with Cannonball Adderley, and the Charlie Parker inspired driving bop of "Bat-Trad", paint a fittingly contemporary portrait of this clarinet master and mentor.
Ever the champion of his instrument's place in jazz, Batiste is quick to point out the great New Orleans clarinetists that influenced him beginning with Sidney Bechet, "... Bechet is a great man... I included his "Blue Horizon" in my book because that is the first true composed blues in music. There are a lot of wonderful clarinet players in New Orleans and some of them have passed recently... like Mr. Cotrell, Willie Humphrey and Clarence Ford... Pete Fountain is still happening as is Ralph Johnson and of course Dr. Michael White... it is in the culture...it is all pervasive... there is a relationship to march music and the clarinet is one of the main instruments in that idiom." Reflecting backward, Batiste states, "I started out as one of Charlie Parker's children but I have been in New Orleans most of my life... if you know the ethnic idiom... when you hear me, you should hear some of that." In a beautiful recapitulation of those thoughts, today's generation of jazz musicians have the same sentiment when it comes to Alvin Batiste.
Alvin Batiste, Musique D'Afrique Nouvelle Orleans (India Navigation, 1984)
John Carter/Alvin Batiste/Jimmy Hamilton/David Murray, Clarinet Summit: In Concert at the Public Theater, Vol. I & II (India Navigation, 1985)
American Jazz Quintet, From Bad to Badder (Black Saint, 1987)
Alvin Batiste, Bayou Magic (India Navigation, 1988)
Alvin Batiste, Late (Columbia, 1994)
Alvin Batiste, Marsalis Music Honors (Marsalis Music-Rounder, 2006)
Postcript: Shortly after this article went to press the jazz world was saddened to learn that Alvin Batiste had passed away. The material for this piece was gathered from conversations I had with him on the phone from New Orleans and in person at the Cape May Jazz Festival. I treasure the fact that I heard him play live and witnessed first hand his incredible abilities as an educator. He lives on through the thousands of people he touched with his music and teachings.