Over the holidays, I listened to Terry Gross talking with Jon Batiste, the musician and composer who may be familiar to you as the musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
It’s a great conversation, because Batiste is sitting at his piano, so he’s constantly stopping to play a bit of this or that. He’s so agile that it takes my breath away—what I would give to be able to play the piano like that.
Listen to the full conversation right here.
He’s much more than simply a bandleader, which may be one of the reasons he’s such a good bandleader. He thinks about music and all its sources, the intertwining way that a tradition of one style of music informs another one.
He grew up in a well-known musical family in New Orleans, and he absorbed the music of that region the way most people absorb oxygen.
At the age of eight, he was put in front of the family’s band to be the singer, but he detested being in such a visible place. His solution? Learn to play the drums, so he didn’t have to sing anymore. Well, that worked. And years later, he discovered that singing and being in front of an audience was something that he actually did want to do.
Up top is a short video that shows Jon Batiste and his band Stay Human standing in an old fort in Newport, just after their set at the Jazz Festival, bringing us an alfresco performance of his song “Believe in Love.”
My favorite quote from the Terry Gross interview comes when he’s explaining why he loves Bach. “The St. Matthew Passion, I was listening to that maybe yesterday, a couple days ago. It’s about three hours long and just listening to that makes you realize what’s possible. He’s arguably the best at a thing that anyone has ever been in the history of doing a thing.”
That’s arguably the best superlative that anyone has ever said in the history of superlatives.