Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alvin Batiste, 1932-2007

Alvin Batiste, 74, a widely respected jazz clarinetist, composer and educator who played across the musical spectrum, from traditional to avant-garde styles, and was a prolific figure on the jazz festival circuit, died May 6 at his home in New Orleans after an apparent heart attack.

He played May 5 at FestForAll, a celebration in Baton Rouge, and died hours before he was scheduled to perform with pianist Harry Connick Jr. and saxophonist Branford Marsalis at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Mr. Batiste recorded sparingly but performed with saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Cannonball Adderley, considered modern jazz greats, as well as musicians as diverse as drummer Billy Cobham and pianist Dr. John. Never a household name but always admired among musicians, Mr. Batiste received broader recognition in the 1980s touring and recording with Clarinet Summit, a quartet that included John Carter, David Murray and Jimmy Hamilton.

Alvin Batiste was born Nov. 7, 1932, in New Orleans, where his father, a railroad worker, played traditional jazz clarinet on the side. Outside home, Mr. Batiste grew immersed in the city's music offerings.

"I remember following a parade when I was 3 years old," he told a Baton Rouge reporter last year. "It was Easter Sunday. I had on a little white suit and, all over New Orleans, the people fed me. When I got home, after they expressed the happiness for me being there, then they almost killed me."

He received extensive musical training through the school system and, as a college student, was a guest soloist with the New Orleans Philharmonic playing a Mozart clarinet concerto. He was a 1955 music education graduate of Southern University and later received a master's degree in clarinet performance and composition from Louisiana State University.

Mr. Batiste was increasingly influenced by bebop jazz pioneers such as saxophonist Charlie Parker. In 1956, he helped start the American Jazz Quintet in New Orleans with drummer Ed Blackwell, pianist Ellis Marsalis, saxophonist Nat Perrilliat and bass player Chuck Badie.

Mr. Batiste considered American Jazz Quintet an experiment in a modern chamber-jazz sound, and it resulted in an early album, "In the Beginning."

Competent on piano and saxophone, Mr. Batiste was called on for his multi-instrumental skills while touring with rhythm-and-blues artists such as Ray Charles, Guitar Slim and Little Willie John.

He also was a studio musician for the AFO ("all for one") label in New Orleans and toured regionally with his band, the Jazztronauts. That group included many of his music students at Southern University, where he helped create the jazz studies program in the late 1960s.

As an educator, he influenced several generations of performers, including Branford Marsalis (son of Ellis, brother of Wynton) and pianist Henry Butler. Though retired from Southern University, he continued to teach at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a conservatory for young adults.

His first major-label release was 1993's "Late" for Columbia Records, which included several of his compositions and a trio led by pianist Kenny Barron. This year, Branford Marsalis produced "Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste," which showcased Mr. Batiste's compositions.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Edith Chatters Batiste of New Orleans and Baton Rouge; and three children, Alvin Batiste Jr. of Plaquemine, La., and Marcia Wilson and pianist Maynard Batiste, both of Baton Rouge; a sister; and 12 grandchildren.


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