Remembering Alvin Batiste

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Published on: May 22nd, 2007

Father, Son and Students Honor the Memory of Alvin Batiste

"Mr. Bat was a model musician. Every day we'd see him before class, always shedding, always practicing. He embodied the spirit of the ideal musician because even at the age he was, he was always trying to get better. You better yourself as a musician, at least I could see through him, you can better yourself as a person, because he was a wonderful person, and he expressed that through his music. His passing gave me a new spirit and made me wanna practice more and more. That was a gift from him, to have more willpower and to strive to be better."

So said Charles Burchell, Jr., son of WWOZ Show Host Charlie B and a former NOCCA student of Alvin Batiste, during Monday afternoon's "Jazz at the Market" program. Burchell and his fellow subgroup of NOCCANS (as Batiste would call them) named The Black Notes showed up on Charlie B's show to pay tribute to their teacher through performance of Batiste's compositions and through their own words about the legendary modern jazz educator and entertainer. Alvin Batiste died on Sunday, May 6th at the age of 74, just hours before he was to perform and be honored at Jazz Fest 2007.

"We wanted to do some kind of tribute since he had done so much for us," Burchell said over the phone Wednesday." Playing at WWOZ was a great opportunity and an honor."

The Black Notes played three Batiste compositions back to back — "Delta Five," "Just Like The Mystics of Old," and "The Labyrinth." After they played "Mystics," the first song Batiste taught the group, Charlie B said, "He sure didn't start off with anything simple, did he?" Burchell replied, "No, he didn't."

Next WWOZ Operations Director Fred Goodrich, who set up the tribute, got on the mic and spoke about Batiste. "He's one of the handful of people I've known that just radiated this glow of love of life and where he was and what he was doing. You know he was doing what he was here to do."

The last song The Black Notes played was "Innerspace," a piece composed by Burchell for Batiste after his death. "One of the last memories I have of Mr. Bat is him being on your [Charlie B's] show right before he died and telling me he liked my compositions," Burchell said before The Black Notes performed the song.

"One time after I performed he came up to me and said, 'Charles, I really dig that.' That really inspired me to do more. Once he died, I thought, 'I gotta write something for him.' I chose the title 'Innerspace' because one of the things he always talked about was looking inside of your self. Right before a concert he would always tell us, 'We're about to travel innerspace.' He would say that all the answers to your life are inside you and that you have to search that innerspace to find your own personal truth. That's what this means to me, and I hope you guys enjoy it."

After performing "Innerspace," which Burchell described as an emotional experience because he wrote it for Batiste, Charlie B played a song from Batiste's last album, Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste, to close out the tribute.

If you were listening to The Black Notes' performance with no knowledge of their age, you probably wouldn't have thought they were teenagers, because they certainly held their own. Isn't that what we and The Black Notes learned from Batiste, that we should always be working to better ourselves as musicians and people, no matter how far we've already come?

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