People think of clarinets as this sound from a different era, and the guys who play them as having done so in black and white.
Alvin Batiste, who initially found his muse in Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time," was never that way. His isn't a same-ole, same-ole southland sound so much as a retro-fitted bebop update, with period instruments. Later, he dove into Sonny Stitt — and Batiste told me, a few years back, that he never emerged.
Stitt's playing, he said that day, allowed Batiste to recognize his own "intuitive consciousness."
That Batiste did it in New Orleans, his home but also the birthplace of Dixieland's anachronistic tourist-trap deathlessness, was all the more remarkable.
Batiste — not a household name, but deeply admired among musicians — lived as he died, falling just before a show at this year's Jazz Fest, but not before recording one last blast of definitive music as part of the Marsalis Music Honors Series on Rounder Records.
Batiste could speak with passion about how rag eventually fit together with blues in the Big Easy to make modern jazz, but he never agreed to stop there. Not in conversation, and not in his music.
New Orleans, Batiste said then, is the model for global civilization — with jazz at its center — and his albums, rare as they were, stand as a living embodiment of that aesthetic.
Loose, but never comfortable, Batiste played with a firebrand focus until the end. At one point, during the playback of the superlative track "Bumps" (his grandson's nickname) from this album, Batiste was brought to tears by the moment.
"Music, man," he said, as his eyes filled. "Music."
You might not have heard this music from him, unless you studied the liner notes of guys like Julian "Cannonball" Adderly (a new version of "Salty Dogs," from that period, is included) paid close attention on Ray Charles tours or knew where to find him in New Orleans.