Pianist Jonathan Batiste refers to the music he plays as social music – music that creates an atmosphere that brings people together for a good time. Well the concept of ‘social music’ appears to be a popular one judging by the number of people flocking to Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha on the fourth floor of the St Regis Hotel during the first week of Batiste’s two-week residency.
Even by the first Wednesday night, the night before the usual weekend rush had got underway, it was standing room only. This is Batiste’s second visit to Doha, and news of his return had spread fast, with many in the crowd either returnees or those accompanying returnees.
On many occasions, Batiste laves the stage in order to wander out into the crowd, accompanied by Stay Human, his band of highly accomplished musicians, in order to wish someone a musical happy birthday, New Orleans style, to sit with members of the audience and strike up a conversation, or just for the fun of it. Audience participation is vital, Batiste clearly wants everyone in the room to add to the vibe of what’s going on.
The contrast with the previous resident musician, vibraphone player Warren Wolf, couldn’t be more stark. Both Wolf and Batiste have exceptional talent, but where Wolf looked at times like he was daydreaming about his dinner, or looking like he was waiting for a bus that never turned up, Batiste (and the rest of his band) look genuinely thrilled to have the chance to share their talent with the room.
Batiste puts on a show, but behind a show of unique appeal, with no two nights quite the same, is highly accomplished musicianship. There’s always some jazz on the setlist, but there might also be some rapping. Sometimes there’s a ragtime vibe, sometimes it’s smooth and sublime, sometimes there’s a rock edge. Often there’s humour.
At times you’ll be surprised by the direction your evening’s entertainment is taking, or maybe you’ll simply be taken aback by the quality of musicianship during performances of songs by the likes of Theolonious Monk or Duke Ellington.
Whether playing original compositions or covers, Jonathan Batiste and Stay Human never look like they’re even close to losing the full attention of everyone in the room. You can be sure that huge amounts of effort have gone into making what they do look so effortless.
At the time of writing you’ve a week left to experience something very special taking place at the St Regis. Book a table and get ready to do a lot of smiling during an evening that showcases a very talented and engaging group of musicians.