Saturday, in addition to playing Annenberg, he'll lead two morning
sessions for students at the Curtis Institute of Music. Later, he'll be
joined by Stay Human for a late-night jam session at the City Tap House
in West Philadelphia.
Batiste got the plumb assignment as
Colbert's bandleader after guesting on the host's Comedy Central show in
2014. Batiste's performance spilled into the street in a musical "Love
Riot." He didn't realize the gig served as an audition for a job he
didn't know he wanted.
How's the new gig?
It's amazing. It's one of those things that you dream of. At least for
me, I dreamed of collaborating with people across different genres who
are in different art forms, like comedy and drama and dance, and being
able to reach people of all different demographics. I never thought it
would come in the form of being a bandleader on a late show, but . . .
There's a conventional model of how to do a late night
show. Colbert's the host. You're the bandleader. What are your ambitions
to broaden that?
We're trying to bring an energy to it that is
different than what you've normally felt. Stephen's whole thing is about
joy. It's basically a show about love and about people from all walks
of life. And that's what Social Music is really about. The idea of music
being something that can happen anywhere. It erupts like a Love Riot or
a mobile concert that could happen anywhere. . . . You can't hate the
person next to you when you're laughing and dancing together.
the energy that Stephen wants to bring to the late-show format. He
wants people to think and people to question, and he's got politics as a
big part of his thing. But the overarching concept is the Joy Machine.
So that's the reason the two of you are dancing around high stepping in the opening?
Yeah. We're here to have a good time. We're gong to explore some pretty
heavy subject matter and have some deep conversations and great music.
But the energy is going to bring joy and be transformational energy.
How did growing up around New Orleans shape your ideas about the way music impacts people's lives?
grew up in a place that has maintained its character and the culture of
being this melting pot without every really having changed. And that's
rare, when you look at New Orleans. The architecture is the same as it
was 100 years ago, and the music is preserved as well: You can hear
blues and spirituals and parade music, John Philip Sousa and all the
people who influenced Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.
grew up in that, which is a blessing. And then to move to New York,
which is a global city, a global melting pot . . . I wanted to figure
out how to reach all of the people I see every day.
Your audition was really on The Colbert Report.
The camera captured the first time we ever talked to each other.
gave him a hard time. You were talking about improvisation and you
said, "You like to read from scripts." It looked like that got under his
skin a bit.
I was a fan of his in a
passive way. But I hadn't studied his background in terms of his having
studied at Second City in Chicago and really having that pedigree. So I
didn't know who I was talking to. But looking back it was like,
'Actually this guy is an improviser.'
What you see on camera is
what he is. He's a genuinely likable guy who's extremely intelligent
with a huge range of knowledge that he can access at any point. He
really can talk to anybody, he knows about so many different things.
When you were offered the job, did you have to think twice?
thought for a long time. There were so many people after that first
Colbert Report interview that were impressed by the synergy we had
during the interview. People everywhere we'd go would say, 'You should
be the bandleader, it would be great for jazz, it would be great for the
music.' But I was completely against it.
didn't know how much creative freedom was going to be allowed. I didn't
know if we were going to be doing the same thing as - in all due
respect, and I've even spoken to Paul Schaffer about this, and Paul and I
have different musical objectives - I didn't really want to play covers
all night. I didn't know if that was part of the gig.
Stephen called me, and at the end of that conversation, I clearly
changed in my perspective when I realized this is not going to be a
typical late show. That's when I realized he's on the same wavelength in
his field as I am in mine.
Have you been able to satisfy yourself creatively, so far?
far. It's too early to tell what we're even doing yet. But the idea of
what we're doing is there. The idea that I'm composing everything you
hear. And then there are a lot of other skits and things, and I love
doing that, too ... It's all kind of what I imagined. But it has to
evolve for me to really see if it comes to fruition.
Did you talk to Questlove from The Tonight Show?
Quest has played with on a few different occasions. He was quoted in GQ
in 2014 saying his top show of 2013 was a three way tie between Prince,
Beyonce and Jon Batiste. So he's been outspoken in his support for what
we're doing. It's not like the old competition that you had between
Leno and Letterman. It's a friendly competition between Fallon and
You're playing in Philadelphia this weekend. Are
you trying to maintain a touring schedule? Doesn't that make you tired
just thinking about it?
You gotta do it while you're young. The time is now. You've got to make it happen. And I don't feel like I'm wearing down.
The "harmonaboard" that you play - isn't that really a melodica, or a hooter?
mobility of the instrument is attractive, and it has a lot of
character. A lot of people don't even know what it is, and I felt it had
an identity crisis, so I decided to create my own name for it.
Why is the band called Stay Human?
plug-in and tune out technology is advancing at such a rapid pace to
the point where we don't even really have a hold on it. I think its
important for people to stay human and remember that genuine human
connection is more fulfilling than anything that technology has to
offer. We all have it within us and music is something that can bring
that out of us.
Jon Batiste & Stay Human at Zellerbach Theater
the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets:
$50-$20. Phone: 215-898-3900 or annenbergcenter.org.