WRITTEN BY: Caitlin McGeehan
An inspiration, activist, and the man with practically every musical ability as “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Music Director and Band Leader–that’s Jon Batiste. And now you can add “Golden Globe winner” to the list.
Fittingly, the Louisiana native opened his press conference with a piano serenade, and continued piano interludes between each question. He was born into music and cited one of his family members, Alvin Batiste, as the teacher who taught him everything he knew about the art when he was a teenager.
At 17, Batiste followed his inspirations, which led him to study at Julliard in New York City. The pace of NYC was definitely much faster than that of Louisiana. He remarked that the vibe of his home state “creates a unique perspective in a young person,” and that there are “different ways you’re being taught to appreciate culture, tradition, and community” there.
Batiste embraced the energy of both places while he was recording his upcoming album WE ARE there. To him, there’s “no choice” in how the environment seeps into the music. The place he’s in, whether it be New York, Los Angeles, or New Orleans, the history of the building, the instruments he’s playing, the shoes he’s dancing in, they all find their way into the essence of the recording.
His dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater, where he tapes The Late Show and recorded portions of his album, used to belong to Carol Burnett. He likes to believe the history of the room and theater gathered there when he recorded. The energy of the theater and its guests is unmatched: in a matter of his first two shows, he was meeting Kendrick Lamar and playing a duet with Yo-Yo Ma.
One of Batiste’s favorite parts of his creative life is his work in composing and arranging the jazz-grounded and “celestial” Golden-Globe-winning soundtrack for Pixar’s “Soul” (Best Score Motion Picture). He worked with the film for over two years and served as inspiration for the movie’s main character, Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher who solidifies his purpose and love for jazz.
As an activist, Batiste explained how his two roles as an activist and musician overlap. He views music as the “social glue,” making emotions feel communal. This togetherness and making people feel the same emotion at the same time allows for a dialogue to occur. Artists can’t avoid being influenced by Black music because it is so intertwined with every sonic landscape.
Black culture is in the United States’ DNA, and the DNA of music, which gives the opportunity to spread and innovate it.
Batiste described his upcoming album as a Black pop masterpiece with his personal story in the middle of it, which is already evident in the single “I NEED YOU.” Why We Are as the album title? “We are – that’s it. A lot of times we look around for someone to save us, and someone to tell us who we are. We are.”
One thing is for sure: “we are” excited to hear Jon Batiste’s album out later this month!