As The Late Show With Stephen Colbert kicks off Tuesday night (Sept. 8), it’s time to get acquainted with the show’s new bandleader, Jon Batiste.
The harmonaboard-yielding musician joins the likes of fellow late-night bandleaders The Roots on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Fred Armisen on Late Night With Seth Meyers and Reggie Watts on The Late Late Show With James Corden, only he’s not such a household name as his “competition.”
That’ll all likely change soon enough. And with that in mind, here are five things to know about Jon Batiste:
Theories of “social music” drive what he does.
Batiste likes to keep his music boundlessly engaging, which often results in shows spilling offstage into the audience and even out into the street. He’s known for staging flash-mob-style street jams he calls “love riots” that are the most literal embodiment of his and his band Stay Human’s desire to break barriers and connect with other humans.
He comes from a long lineage of New Orleans musicians.
Batiste has claimed musicianship in his family tree spanning back four or five generations in New Orleans. That includes free-jazz saxophonist Alvin Batiste (who is a cousin of Batiste’s grandfather), his uncle Russell Batiste drums with the Meters as a replacement to Zigaboo Modeliste, and Jon himself was a member of the Batiste Brothers Band as a percussionist early on. After switching to piano when he was 11, he was mentored the clarinetist Alvin Batiste, a distant cousin.
He’s all about collaborating.
Batiste has recorded or performed with an impressive list of musicians that includes Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Aloe Blacc, Harry Connick Jr., Cassandra Wilson, Derek Trucks, Jimmy Buffett, Abbey Lincoln, Mark O’Connor, the Soul Rebels Brass Band and Wynton Marsalis. He even released an album last year with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and bassist/producer Bill Laswell.
He and his band are all classically trained and respected.
Batiste may seem a bit like a silly guy, but he’s done serious work to get here. He studied jazz and classical piano at Juilliard (where he met his Stay Human bandmates). The 28-year-old is currently the at-large artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and his honors go on: Among others, in 2006 he received the Movado Future Legend Award and in 2013 received the Rising Star Award at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
You’ve probably seen him before.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert won’t be Batiste’s first time on camera: He had a role for two seasons on the HBO series Treme playing himself (the show’s lead character, Antoine Batiste, played by Wendell Pierce, is based on one of Batiste’s extended family members) and played musician T. K. Hazelton in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer. He also proved his chemistry with Colbert onscreen on The Colbert Report last summer, following which Colbert recently said on the The Late Show Podcast, “As soon as that interview was over I went, ‘Damn, I think that’s a guy I could actually spend a few years onstage with.'”