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'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Bandleader Jon Batiste Dishes on Paul Shaffer's Sound Advice

Grayson Dantzic
Stephen Colbert and Jon Batiste in 2014.

Meet Jon Batiste, the bandleader for the most anticipated late-night TV show in years.

When The Late Show With Stephen Colbert debuts Sept. 8 on CBS, it will usher in not only the post-David Letterman era but also the post-Paul Shaffer era. Jon Batiste, a Juilliard-trained keyboardist known for his New Orleans jazz sound, will serve as the show's musical director, heading up a band comprising his longtime drummer Joe Saylor, saxophonist Eddie Barbash and a rotating all-star guest list. The 28-year-old dishes on joining Colbert's late-night party.

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How did you land the bandleader gig?

I performed on The Colbert Report last year, and the first time we spoke was on camera. There was a chemistry there, and that was the beginning of it. He has a lot of the same beliefs I do about the arts bringing people together. He's a comedian and an improvisor at heart, and as a jazz musician I've been improvising since I was very young.

How do his musical tastes compare to yours?

He has a wide palette in terms of genres, and I do too. But the biggest difference between us is jazz -- he's not big into jazz. Whenever we start to talk about it, he doesn't really know a lot.

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What's your vision for the band on the show?

A lot of engagement with the audience, a lot of interactivity, a lot of mixing genres. We have this mobile thing that we do called "love riots" where it's about bringing music out of the venue. It's going to be a lot of fun, but also have very virtuosic, serious musical presentations.

Did Shaffer give you any advice?

He said that the team you build around you is extremely important. You want people who can help you manage this machine, because it's a big machine -- and you have to feed it every night.

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of Billboard.