Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes
Jon Batiste & Stay Human
Prospect Park Bandshell
Friday, July 22nd 2016
After two opening acts that included a brilliant saxophone trio formed by three very young musicians aged from 12 to 16 years of age, bandleader and evening curator Jon Batiste took to the stage on the melodica backed by an 8-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, kicking off the show with a marching band-style take on the Christmas standard “My Favorite Things” that was blended with “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” He then went to the piano for an instrumental version of blues standard “St. James’ Infirmary” where he showcased his dexterity on the piano.
Stay Human have great chemistry together, responding to the bandleader’s grooves with expertise, even when he went off with some improvised moment – I guess that tightness comes from performing on a nightly basis on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS (I compare with the last time I saw the band at The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival two or three years ago).
Young Sax Trio
Batiste is open to many genres – at one moment, he is playing a boogie take on the “Star Spangled Banner” and the next going into a full rock mode and then drifting into a personal take on “Pour Elise,” which featured a bass solo. The set included covers of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” with the bassline played on the tuba, which preceded included a tuba battle and a full French Quarter-style marching band tune in which the ensemble walked into the audience.
It was a great opportunity to see Batiste outside of the constraints of a TV studio setting, where he stretched the music and improvised freely – I heard some folks in the audience hoping Colbert would make an appearance (considering his recent vocal performances) but that did not happen – instead, the audience was taken to an amazing musical journey under the direction of an amazingly talented bandleader who we all hope to hear again – on stage – soon.
By Ernest Barteldes
Dr. John at Summerstage
Dr. John & The Night Trippers
Central Park Summerstage
August 1, 2015
New York, NY
It was a hot Saturday afternoon when Renata and I headed to Rumsey Playfield – I was excited about New Orleans legend Dr. John’s appearance there – I had really enjoyed Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit Of Satch (Concord), his recent tribute to Louis Armstrong released late last year, and was looking forward to hearing the music played live. We arrived a bit too late to catch much of Amy Helm‘s (the daughter of the late Levon Helm) folksy set, but enjoyed the last few songs as we settled on our seats.
The Night Trippers started out with a funk-inflected melody – the four-piece ensemble directed by his backup singer and trombonist Sarah Morrow, an energetic woman who asked the audience if “anyone needed a doctor.” Seconds later, Dr. John emerged on stage and walked to the piano (assisted by a cane) for a spirited rendition of “Iko Iko,” one of the staples of his live sets. He kept the energy level high, pounding the piano with gusto and sometimes semi-rapping through the lyrics.
There was a lot of improvisation throughout the set – Morrow played extended solos, and Dr. John also exercised his great piano skills, stretching some numbers to as much as 10 minutes. He did not really delve into the music from the Armstrong tribute, but did include “What a Wonderful World” and “Mack the Knife” played closely to the arrangement on the disc.
Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John
The only part of the set I didn’t really enjoy was when he picked up the guitar – his playing was a bit slow and lacked energy (probably owing to the damage he sustained after a gun accident in the 60s) – but when he returned to the keys for numbers like “Good Night Irene” you could virtually see sparks fly. Most of those in attendance were clearly longtime fans who sang along to many of the tunes (I was not familiar with many of them).
Dr. John is known for playing longer sets, and he did not disappoint – by the time he got to the closer “Such a Night,” almost two hours had passed. It was not easy to be under the sun for such a long time, but it was definitely worth it to catch such a legend on a live format.