Jazz pianist Jon Batiste performs at the Phillips Center tonight

Jazz pianist Jon Batiste, second from left, performs with his New York-based group Stay Human tonight at the Phillips Center.

Courtesy of Jon Batiste
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 12:59 p.m.

The irrepressible songs and sheer variety of sounds on “Social Music,” the latest album from Jon Batiste and Stay Human, proves that the CD and band titles of the New York-based music collective aren't just lip-service odes to feel-good notions, but a mantra for music to grow and embrace while staying innately human in a modern era.


Jon Batiste and Stay Human

What: New York-based jazz pianist performs with group

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road

Tickets: $20-$35, $10 for UF students

Info: 392-2787, Ticketmaster.com

Exhibit A is the video for “Express Yourself,” an infectious blend of pop vocals with jazzy, funk-infused instrumentation including Batiste's own melodica and grand piano as backed by saxophone, percussion and even tuba.

In the video, Batiste and band begin playing in a music club before the sounds become so crowd-swelling that band and audience become an interactive ensemble that naturally bubbles out in the streets, with Batiste leading his band and listeners on a journey that, well, no one can say for sure where it might lead.

It is safe to say, however, that the 27-year-old Batiste and band — which cut its teeth in spur of the moment street performances and even recorded an album (“MY NY”) on the New York subway — will continue their explorative odyssey that has most recently become Batiste's first tour as a group leader on a trek that stops at the Phillips Center tonight.

The album title “Social Music” was chosen as an all-inclusive statement about where his music is now — and where it's headed, the pianist/composer says in a recent phone call.

“That's what we believe in,” Batiste says. “The music is about bringing people from different backgrounds together. And if you bring different genres of music together, I think you'll bring different types of people and different people who share the humanity of what Stay Human is about.”

Before putting the band together in New York City, Batiste was a New Orleans native born into the musical family that partly inspired the HBO series, “Treme,” in which he has appeared.

After establishing himself as an in-demand pianist who recorded with such other Crescent City musicians as Jason Marsalis and Donald Harrison Jr., Batiste headed to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music. He also began performing in formats that have evolved from an early trio to the full band Stay Human, which has became known for musical street performances dubbed “love riots.”

The group's latest album, “Social Music,” teems with variety even as it forges a unifying identity that manages to pull neo-classical piano pieces (“D-Flat Movement”), jazz instrumentals (“Lonely Cry in Manhattan” and “San Spirito”) and spirited tunes with vocals (“Let God Lead” and “Express Yourself”) into a cohesive whole.

“I see it as a chapter,” Batiste says about the album. “And there's a big change in the direction that you're going in as an artist every time you learn something new or you experience something new.

“Rather than try to stick to a specific genre, especially in this age of everything being extremely integrated and people coming together and having access to different ways of communication and information on the internet, what have you, we decided to make music that corresponds with our era,” he says.

“And I think this is a big change for me as an artist. It's a new chapter,” he says. “I like to call it the 'Social Music' chapter.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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