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Alvin Batiste (11.7.32 – 5.6.07)

Like many of the guys from his generation, Alvin played everything but was classically trained, so all of his music was informed by that classical training. When Larry Combs, the retiring principal clarinetist in the Chicago Symphony, was in New Orleans for a while, Alvin asked him for a lesson. Larry told Alvin to play something, and Alvin played a bit of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. After listening, Larry said, “That’s great. Do you play jazz, too?” After he heard Bat play a few songs, he then said, “There’s nothing I can teach you, but thanks for stopping by.”

Another attitude common toward Alvin and his contemporaries was that they didn’t look down on being educators because they had really good teachers themselves. Their teachers were disciplinarians, and as they got older they saw the value of that discipline-of asking more from students than students might ask of themselves. I think that the segregated society that Alvin grew up in played a part in that. As society had drummed the specter of inferiority into black people at that time, it really had meaning when a teacher told him just as insistently that he was better than people told him he was. That is one of the sad things missing in the minority community today.

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