Jon Batiste and The Stay Human Band: “San Spirito” & “Killing Me Softly”

To lighten things up a little bit…can we talk about how awesome Jon Batiste and the Stay Human Band are? Want proof of their awesomeness? Just look up, “Jon Batiste “San Spirito” & “Killing Me Softly” on YouTube (still up as of this writing). Just listen to that. Jon Batiste’s piano, mixing with the band. The horn, the sax, the jambourine, oh god! Everything is so…free, yet connected. It may have the appearance of a song, but it feels so improvised, like a cook making amazing sauces just by tossing stuff around without exact measurements. The word “composition” doesn’t even begin to do justice to how lively this performance is. Henri Matisse was once quoted as saying, “Exactitude is not truth”. Jazz (at it’s best) is the ultimate proof of that.

The thing that gets me excited about the performance is how it’s upbeat yet by no means lightweight. Maybe that’s the way all Jazz music is in New Orleans, I wouldn’t know. To start backwards, their rendition of “Killing Me Softly” (beginning at around 4:22 in the video) leaps from a somber opening to a soft yet groovy song. This rendition is everything cover songs SHOULD be: recognizable, yet unique in their own way, proving that the message and beats of a song do not have to stay with any one artist or group.

“San Spirito”…oh my god, am I the only one who pictures that being used in a really good crime TV show? Think on it…main character stands on the foggy docks, barely seeing the water yet looking at it because they need something, anything, to remind them of who they are. He turns…next moment, he chases a suspect through city streets, leaping through alleyways of aged brown brick and cracked concrete. Just a few cars in the streets as the chase continues deeper into the city, enough to allow the character to climb on one and launch themselves off of it in an instant, landing on the suspect just as they’re about to cross the curb. Another suspect caught, another job done…but they return to the docks, because if there’s one thing they hate more than people and work, it’s the feeling that no amount of private peace is ever enough. They look in vain for a body of water to remind them of who they are…too foggy today.

Maybe that’s just me. The point is that “San Spirito” is loose, but is by no means lazy. It starts out with a sound similar to a military march, then it melts into something adventurous. Especially when Jon plays that Piano…ho, boy. It’s like one is launched into a wider world, outside of the tidiness the song starts with. Isn’t that just like life: you start out tidy but things get more kinetic as you go on, your sense of time melted away until there’s nothing but sensations…and then it ends?

Yeah, that sounds depressing, but Jazz music is something like that. Jazz is proof that one doesn’t have to fit structures exactly to make music. Jazz is free, Jazz is humanity making beauty with what it has. These days, Jazz may feel typecast and cliche (that is, if your exposure to it is limited to stuff released in the late 1980s to late 1990s as “Smooth Jazz”, stuff parodied by the likes of Macintosh Plus), but it’s nice to see that there’s still life in Jazz, still people willing to make do with what they have…and do it in their own way.

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