COVID Conversations, Vol. 6: Jon Batiste

Photo © 2020 Enid Farber; All Rights Reserved,

One sunny June Sunday in Manhattan’s Union Square, Jon Batiste spoke through a megaphone and a mask about “the need to implement systemic change and to avoid collective apathy.”

He then marched roughly a thousand people, including members of the Stay Human band he leads  as music director of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” up Sixth Avenue. He was just blocks from the Village Vanguard, the storied jazz club where he’d recorded two albums. He drew directly on the second-line tradition he learned as a boy, in New Orleans. He played and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” composed more than a century ago and often referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” He segued into his latest single, “We Are,” a call-to-arms, he told me, “meant to confront the choice between profit and humanity, between freedom and the bondage of racism and all the terrible things that have been accepted and perpetuated in this country.”

A week later Batiste sat at an upright piano in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wearing a mask and bright-blue protective gloves, he played a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Like the version he’d recorded for his 2013 album, “Social Music” it sounded playful, rollicking, chaotic, even threatening.

We talked on the phone about these protests and this moment.

What prompted you to head out to Union Square and lead a protest? Continue reading “COVID Conversations, Vol. 6: Jon Batiste”

Colbert Taps Pianist Jon Batiste For New "Late Show"

batiste-e4b7982f43061cf6b53a2e7c47a043fe132887f6-s6-c30As Dave Itzkoff reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Stephen Colbert has named pianist Jon Batiste to be his bandleader when he begins hosting “The Late Show” for CBS on Sept. 8. 
Colbert stuffs a lot of sugary beignets into his face and packs a lot of funny into the 43-second video introducing Batiste .
Meanwhile, Batiste flashes his pianism and his affection for his other favorite instrument, the melodica. He mugs like a good sidekick but also a subversive one: he utters the word “jazz,” and features tambourine, two things well understood in New Orleans, where Batiste first came of age as a musician, but generally alien on network TV.
Batiste isn’t the first jazz musician raised in Kenner, Louisiana and trained at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to be a late-night TV star. That would be saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who was Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” bandleader from 1992 to 1995. Marsalis and Leno never achieved the type of on-air banter late-night TV needs (Jay just wasn’t cool enough nor was Branford willing to pander) and ultimately, Marsalis’ estimable musicianship seeemed watered down, his musical inclinations hemmed in.
That’s unlikely to happen to Batiste: Colbert’s show will probably skew more hip and open-minded. Continue reading “Colbert Taps Pianist Jon Batiste For New "Late Show"”