Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Jon Batiste: And All That Jazz

Jon Batiste interview
Jon Batiste interview Jon Batiste interview Jon Batiste interview Jon Batiste interview

Jon Batiste, a multi-faceted jazz artist who possesses an innate ability to hip-hop, skip and jump genre at will but still create his own brand of natural jazz, with plenty of soul-infused sounds or for that matter, whatever sound he feels like making his own on any given day…he's that good.

A multi-instrumentalist, activist, Stay Human band member, TV personality/bandleader - Batiste is bandleader on the multi-million viewed late-night US TV institution, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert - and an impressively regular releasing recording artist, boasting 9 studio albums, 5 live albums, 4 EP's and the 2020 "Soul" soundtrack, all released in the last 16-years, plus a whole host of feature credits along the way. This month sees the release of the 10th studio release for the 34-year-old, multi-Grammy Award nominee born in Metairie in Louisiana, his album "We Are" contains a deft mix of everything mentioned above and more and features the UK's very own smokey-voiced 2020 breakthrough artist Celeste who duets on "It's Alright", the title song from the recent Pixar animated hit, "Soul", with Jamie Foxx voicing lead character Joe Gardner.

I was lucky enough to Zoom call with the artist recently to talk about his new album "We Are", growing up in a New Orleans performing dynasty and his hit duet with Celeste. And, talk about timing… We spoke the day after his hard work on the "Soul" film score along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had been rewarded with an Emmy Award win, with the Pixar animation scooping 2 awards on the night.

Firstly, the new album "We Are", I noticed features many genres including soul, jazz, funk, even rap…

[laughs] Genre doesn't exist! It's in your mind… genre is in your mind! We are just creating music and we can do all styles and we are just putting it together. Like, when you hear Stevie, it's no style… And when you hear it with the music I'm doing, it's just me! It's just the spirit channelling through me and that's it! It's open and that's all I wanna do… [laughs/plays Steve Wonder's "Living For The City" melody on the piano as we continue…] I'm on a vibe! [continues laughing] I see you got that Stevie poster behind you, I love that! Stevie is a healer… [Wonder - on a blown-up B&S cover the wall behind me - is just one superstar Batiste has worked with] that's where I learned my healing from [again, plays Wonder's instantly recognisable melody to a crescendo]

Talking of wonderful things, your video for your recent release "I Need You" is pretty cool…

It was so fun…so much joy. It was joy, man. It was an intense day - we shot it all in one day during COVID so we had all these COVID protocols and all this stuff going on. It was joyous man, it was so much joy. [Director] Alan Ferguson, he impressed me. I called him, I said, "I wanted to do this…" Jemel McWilliams, incredible choreographer. We came together with this vision, how we blend the 1940's duke joint, social music black Harlem experience with contemporary pop/hip-hop and make it dance so that's why we did.

The song on the album "WhatYouTalkin'About" is so fast-paced lyrically, how do you write a song like that?

I played every instrument on that, that hit me so fast. I was playing and it was like, “wow! I feel it all now, I have to lay it down right now!" And that's what happened. I was playing the drums and man, I was like "I hear it, I hear it" and then I picked up the bass and I put the bass on there and I was like, “wow". The cadence is a triplet thing. [Sings fast] "I'm flying the plane [then singing the pace like the rhythm of a fast moving train] diggada-diggada-diggada-diggada…" I wanted to put that there and then it just came out! I'm a very associative, creative thinker. I like to have a lot of stimulus going on so I'll be reading something and then I'll be listening to music at the same time. And the TV will be on and I'll be doodling over here and it all somehow comes together. Do you know what I mean? It just comes together.

"It's Alright” from the ”Soul" soundtrack also featuring on the "We Are" album… how did Celeste become involved on that track?

Man, she's incredible. I heard her voice and this was before the acclaim she's now getting...that she's due. She's amazing - I love her! I've always been like a talent scout. I'm always listening to stuff and trying to find voices, in particular, I've always been fascinated with the duet of voices, a male voice and a female voice like Ella [Fitzgerald] & Louie [Armstrong] or Marvin Gaye & Tami Terrell and I always listen for them voices and I heard her and I was like, "Oh yeahhh!" It was just kindred. It felt right and I was working on the Pixar "Soul" score at the time and I was like, "let's get her!" No offence to the names that they were bringing up, like these bigger names. But, I was like, "I like the way she sounds - forget about the names, let's get the right [voice]” you know what I mean? I love her, she’s so much 'runway’! [laughs]

We spoke on the phone a few times and then we got on Zoom but we couldn't do it [in the studio at the same time] because it was during the pandemic when we started it. It was around March or April or something like that. It was a crazy time when we started it but we figured it out! But, it's great to see how she's been doing and how the song in the movie [has also been doing]. I mean, man, last night, we won 2 Golden Globes for Original Score and Animated Picture! An animation about Jazz! It's amazing! I love it! It's a beautiful thing to see it happen, I'm just so happy that people were moved by it and felt the need to share it. When it came out, it just felt like the stars aligned.

You are also a star of late night TV, where you flex your band leading skills on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert... how did you get that gig?

It was one of there things, a happy accident. I wasn’t looking to do it and I was on the road, I had been on the road for 2 or 3 years, since I graduated from Juilliard (leading US school for performing arts) at 20 in 2011 so from 2014-2014 we were on the road with Stay Human, the band that’s now on the show. Was doing this thing that was all independent, I didn’t want to sign a record deal and I finally got to the point where there was so much buzz and energy around what we were doing. We had all these record deals on the table, all these major record labels, Warner Brothers and all of these like, artist deals and they were trying to rope me into the thing. I was finally ready to maybe entertain it, so we were doing the meeting and we were doing the meetings in the process of touring, we were going back and forth. It was like, we had meetings, we be on the road - it was that kinda time in life. It was so much to consider and it was so daunting.

Then, we get a call, can you be on The Colbert Report? We had the number one jazz album on Billboard for a month - it was an independent record. And we get invited on The Colbert Report ad he wants to do a sit-down interview and then he wants me to perform. And at this time, I’m like, I don’t want to do it unless we can do the “Love Riot” on the air. They were like, that’s gonna to be two segments. Normally, one segment is the interview, one segment is the performance and you’re asking for three segments? Well, I don’t wanna do it if we can’t do that so then he said, you can do it! So I go on the air, I do the interview, we do the “Love Riot”, we take the studio audience out of the venue and into the street - It was the first time they ever did that on the show. It was amazing! It was just such an amazing… I really felt that we connected and I was right because he invited me back to that show before it was over and we connected to a point that we could call each other and one day he called me, in the middle of me weighing up my options and finishing in the studio, I was working some music and he called, he said “ I wanna talk to you about about something…” So I go to his office in like, some 10-days after the phone call because he was going on vacation he said, I’m on vacation but when I come back - I’m off the grid for 10-days - I want to meet you in the office. We got to his office and he tells me he’s talking over for David Letterman would you wanna be the band s out of left field this opportunity to go into TV comes when I’m on this other path. And I really did it because I wasn’t looking to do it, but I did it cos I liked him… I liked our chemistry and that’s it! The rest is history. I’m glad I didn’t sign those record deals!

You can read more from B&S Editor Lee Tyler's exclusive interview with a multi-faceted jazz artist Jon Batiste, including the lowdown on the who's who of featured artists Quincy Jones, Mavis Staples, Zadie Smith, Quincy Jones PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty to name a few. Also, we find out about Batiste showcasing artists on US TV's The Late Show, including the inclusion of soul icon and activist Mavis Staples, on his first night as bandleader on the show and we also look at Batiste's stellar music family tree, all in the latest issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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