A supercharged jazz musician has entered the public eye in a huge way. Jon Batiste leads the house band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He traveled to Philadelphia for the kickoff of Jazz Appreciation Month and spoke with WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston.
In early April, the City presented Jon Batiste with the inaugural Benny Golson Award, which honors a jazz musician who exudes the qualities embodied by composer, saxophonist, and local legend Benny Golson. It’s an homage to an artist (from Philadelphia or elsewhere) who also promotes an appreciation and knowledge of jazz in the community, the nation, and the world.
[Music: Batiste playing “Blackbird” on the piano during The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Feb. 9, 2016]
Meridee Duddleston: If you haven’t heard much about Jon Batiste, you probably will. The young pianist, singer, composer, melodica player, and bandleader is from one of the New Orleans area’s fabled jazz families. Music is in his blood. But what’s different about this transplant to New York is how he wants to seduce those who know nothing about the music.
Jon Batiste: I think that jazz is about people. It’s about community. If it’s not in the community you’re not doing it right.
MD: Jon Batiste pushes past all kinds of conventional boundaries. He does comedy bits on Colbert. And in what he calls “love riots,” he parades his band Stay Human through the streets and subways of Manhattan. It’s part of his approach to widening the definition of jazz.
JB: I think that when you look at what jazz has become in the 21st century, and that means that jazz is open to many more influences and people are more connected now than they’ve ever been through the internet and through all those different ways people can communicate.
MD: A first album at 17. Undergraduate and Master’s degrees from Juilliard. Performances in London, Spain, Japan, Amsterdam, and Carnegie Hall in his 20s. The musings of a master who just turned 30.
JB: I think we just are experimenting and exploring until we hit on somethin’ new that everybody wants to grab onto, and then we’ll take that and ride that wave. And that’s just how it goes.