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Mike Kobal

August 6, 2014

Portrait session with John Batiste: Musician


This article originally appeared in Soma magazine.

Jon Batiste is a unique individual. Hailing from a celebrated musical family in New Orleans, music runs in his veins. Not just in his blood, but also in his gait, the lilt of his speech and his whole being.

more after the break


Zeiss Fe 24 70mm wide open

He is a singer, virtuoso pianist, composer and bandleader, a Juilliard graduate, “Movado Future Legend” award recipient, and a “Steinway Performing Artist.” By 25 Batiste had already performed in over 40 countries with the likes of Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Jimmy Buffett among others. He was appointed Artistic Director at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and sold out venues all over New York including Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Bowery Ballroom and Carnegie Hall. But those are just the facts of his accomplishments. To get a real sense of Batiste is to witness the groundbreaking and fresh movement that is “social music.” Now at 27 years old, he is making a name for himself as one of the most innovative and exciting musicians on the scene today.


Nikkor E 100mm wide open

Jon is fresh from his homecoming show at Webster Hall in New York, where he played with his Juilliard-formed band, Stay Human to a full house of 1,400. Just when the lights blared brightly on the final number, Jon lead his band down off of the stage into the audience below. Harmonabord (a portable, mouth-blown keyboard) in hand, he played shoulder to shoulder with his fans and lead hundreds of them out onto the streets for a “love riot.” The musical procession stopped only to embrace new friends, playing for any passersby. This was the “social music” experience.


Zeiss FE 24 70mm wide open

In this way, Jon and his band often made the more unexpected spots their regular venues, giving spontaneous performances for New Yorkers on street corners, in subway cars, and in eateries such as Katz’ Deli in the Lower East Side. Bringing jazz directly to people, and interacting both with them in these instances he reflects that,

“Jazz is always about the moment, and embracing what’s happening right now—it has a celebratory tradition,” says Batiste. “We need to take it outside the context of the concert hall and
take it to the street without watering it down.”

Batiste goes on to say, “Everyone from babies to people who are 80, people who like that older music back to King Oliver, then people who like Kanye West and Drake. They’re all at our con- cert, and that’s what social music is about.”


Zeiss FE 24 70mm wide open

Similarly, the mélange of musical influences from funk, to jazz, to spirituals, to R&B can be heard in his music, and the different artistic collaborations are just as colorful and eclectic. Lenny Kravitz and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers both sat in on one of his community outreach performances for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

Batiste’s most recent album titled “Social Music” reflects his beliefs that art should be inclusive, a way to connect us to one another, and allow for a collaborative spirit. “Music is the soundtrack to social change,” he says. “The album is my response to what’s happening in the world right now. It’s based in traditional jazz but it’s played with a spirit of inclusiveness.”


Nikkor E 100mm wide open

“We just want the crowd to explore with us, because there’s room for everybody in the ‘social music’ concept. That’s why I feel when people come to the show, it’s almost mandatory that they are involved.”

Batiste’s talent is almost eclipsed by the unique nature of his social music movement, which makes for the most unforgettable live musical experience that reminds us to stay human.

Text by Aine Campbell

A few technical notes:

This was one of my first portrait assignments shot with the Sony A7, the Zeiss 24 70mm and the Nikkor E 100mm, a portable LED light powered by a Bescor battery belt.
Portrait sessions can be quite hectic and this one was no exception. We practically ran from location to location, trying to catch the best (and last) light, we had a few ideas and improvised along the way whenever we saw a suitable location or the light was just right. No auto focus problems although I rarely used the center phase/contrast detect area, most of the time I ended up one field above.
I really liked seeing the LED and shallow depth of field effect in the EVF, at this point I can’t imagine working any other way. I also enjoyed using the Nikkor E 100mm, my favorite portrait lens, buttery soft bokeh wide open and tack sharp. Auto review was turned off to speed things up.
In the mean time I replaced the A7 with the A7s and kept the A7r. 2014 is the year I went mirrorless and so far, I haven’t missed my DSLR’s, however, keep in mind I am using the Sony A system on controlled sets for still and video shoots. For journalistic assignments I would reach for the Panasonic GH4 or rent a Nikon D4s or Canon 1Dx, depending on the type of assignment.

Equipment used and mentioned in this post:
Sony A7/s/r get it here at BH, VERY good deals on Ebay, or Adorama.

Zeiss Fe 24 70mm get it here at BH, Ebay (great deals) or Adorama.
Nikon Series E 100mm get it here on Ebay.
Panasonic GH4 here at BH, on Ebay or from Adorama.
LED light
Bescor battery belt

If you find this article helpful, please consider helping me maintaining this blog by purchasing your gear through my product links to Adorama and B&H and Ebay. It will cost you nothing and allows me to keep adding! Or consider making a direct donation using PayPal, thank you!


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4 Comments »

  1. Mike, this is incredible series, I love it.
    the A7s is a great camera, I think that one + the also incredible A7R make a great kit.
    I also decided to sell all my Nikon and Canon kit and I cannot be happier.

    Comment by derek — August 8, 2014 @ 2:12 am

  2. Thanks Derek! Based on a few reviews claiming the A7s produces rather disappointing results as a still camera I wasn’t expecting much and got it mainly for video but already after one photo session I realized the reviewers weren’t shooters but pixel peepers :) the files are stunning, when looking at the full image rather the 100% portions of the image. Love it for portraits, full figure and low light shooting. Keeping the incredible A7r for assignments where high resolution is needed.

    Comment by mike.kobal — August 8, 2014 @ 8:46 am

  3. Mike, lovely and imaginative results, especially the fourth contre-jour image. Thanks for an interesting post.

    Comment by Joel — August 8, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

  4. Thank you, Joel!

    Comment by mike.kobal — August 8, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

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