Published in The Aspen Daily News on July 7, 2014
What makes for good art?
To be fair, that’s a loaded question, and one that artists and critics have debated for ages. In general, however, “good art” transcends cultures and ages, ringing true to a wide range of audiences.
The music of 25-year-old Jon Batiste — a singer, pianist and musical savant — did just that when he played a late-night, hour-long set at The Little Nell on Monday, June 30, as a part of the Aspen Ideas Fest.
That night, Batiste’s most moving pieces began in the classical realm — starting with the sort of songs you imagine classical pianists play to perfect their finger-placing technique and music-reading skills. As those songs progressed, Batiste began to improvise — throwing in ditties from classic song standards like “The Entertainer” and “Moon River.” At other moments, he would slow down the rhythm to create a blues jazz beat.
When Batiste finished his short set, the audience shouted for more. Batiste smiled and agreed to play one more song in honor of Aspen. It was an improvised classical piece weaving “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in and out of chaotic discord. The harsh juxtaposition was poetic and seemingly appropriate for an audience full of second homeowners visiting a resort town for a conference on “big ideas” related to the world’s problems.
Batiste blends musical genres, creating a complex pastiche, where music melodies from childhood songs swell up and disappear in the midst of a classical opus like fleeting memories. That’s why his music appealed to both the young and the old, the diners and the servers in the room. And that, I would argue, is good art.