Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Monday, December 17, 2018

St. James Infirmary at the 2019 Grammy Awards

Photo of Jon Batiste from his 2018 album,
Hollywood Africans
St. James Infirmary is up for a 2019 Grammy Award!

New Orleans jazz pianist, Jon Batiste, has recorded at least two versions of "St. James Infirmary." First, in 2013 with his band Stay Human. And this year, 2018, he reinterpreted the song for a solo album. (Batiste is an accomplished, nuanced, inventive, deeply committed musician and arranger.) Both recordings are remarkable.

His earlier SJI is the more anguished of the two, the most thick with sound, opening with an Arvo Part-like piano theme but ultimately driven by a relentless percussion that unfolds into an exuberant jazz abstraction.

His 2018 SJI is reflective, an interior monologue with apparently simple piano but unfolding with profound melancholy in orchestration and chorus. Deeply felt and intensely communicated.

The category for Batiste's recording is "best American roots performance."

There is another category called "best American roots song." I think the difference is that the song needs to be an original, contemporary composition with a rootsy flavour, while the performance might or might not be. Looking at the nominees, "St. James Infirmary" is the only actual olden-days song listed. All others in both categories are (arguably) in the "roots" style, but contemporary. For instance, Willie Nelson's "Last Man Standing," another contender in the  performance category, was written by Willie for his 2018 album of the same name.

Here's Batiste's 2018 interpretation of this timeless song:



SJI, eh?