Today, Jon Batiste is the bandleader on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", but in 2011 he was a Juilliard student visiting his now-girlfriend, Suleika Jaouad, in the oncology ward at Mount Sinai.
As machines beeped around them, he and his band, "Stay Human", began to play. Soon the patients were dancing. Protective face masks were matched by grins. There was music in a silent place.
This gets at the heart of what Batiste is talking about when he talks about his "social music." Too often, in his view, we consume music passively, when really it should be participatory, and affecting. It should create a relationship. Batiste brought social music from the subway, where he recorded most of an album, to the living room screen via CBS, a platform that he hopes will channel the infectiousness of his live performances.
Recently, Batiste sat down with amExpress to talk about community-building, the future of music, performing on the L-line, and the best basketball courts in Manhattan (Riverside Park).
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
In New Orleans, where you grew up, music was a part of the community. Have you found that here?
My idea of what represents the New York community best was found in the subways. You have all of these different people taking public transit together, and they probably wouldn't be next to each other if it wasn't for that. So we decided to play in the subway.
The L train going to Brooklyn, that was a nice one. We played the A train up to Harlem through Washington Heights, we were on that train all the way to the top.
Tell us more about social music.
Social music is music without borders, it's music for the people, it's about bringing music to people where they need it; and people who want access to it get access to it. They receive it in their time of need. We're serving the people, and giving them something that we really feel like will enrich their experience on earth.
Is there someplace in New York that needs music?
I'm always discovering people and different communities that I'd love to bring social music into . . . I just don't have the time!
You have a full-time job.
I want to start getting back out into the streets. Just the time of it, and the energy that you have to put into that . . . The thing about jazz is it's so spontaneous, but it also has a really strong sense of shared responsibility.
The band has to feel ownership of it, so it takes a lot of thought and planning to create these spontaneous moments. It's tough to just go and do this, you have to really map it out.
Has the Internet changed how you think about music?
The Internet is something we haven't figured out how to accommodate. Culturally speaking, it's taken over us and we don't have control over it. People in our generation and younger are really attached to the Internet in a way that is affecting how they communicate and their personal relationships and otherwise.
I think social music is an attempt to get people to connect in a different way.
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.