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On a classic episode of The Third Story, Jon Batiste reveals the musical advice that guided him

Jon Batiste
Jonathan Chimene
Jon Batiste performing at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2015, as part of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Before he reigned supreme at the Grammy Awards, before he was an Oscar-winning composer (for Pixar’s Soul), before he was bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and well before he’d become one of the rare jazz artists considered a household name, Jon Batiste was simply a rising star of the piano, making what he called “social music.”

Batiste hails from Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He was born into a musical family, and thrust into the mix at an early age, singing and playing drums. At around 11, he switched from drums to piano, and never looked back. Eventually he moved to New York to go to Juilliard. But while he was still in New Orleans, he studied and played with Alvin Batiste, a cousin of his grandfather, who taught him to “Be you, even if it’s the most obtuse thing. Do that rather than imitate something else...” And that original lesson has guided him throughout his life and career.

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While he was still in school, Batiste started to work as a sideman for jazz artists including Abbey Lincoln, Roy Hargrove, Cassandra Wilson, and Wynton Marsalis. He learned about leadership and collaboration from all of them. And it’s in this space of artistic awakening in his 20s, when he begins to assert himself fully, that we find him in this episode.

Recorded in 2014, our conversation tells Jon’s origin story, his early influences and experiences, his philosophy of music and of leadership. This episode also marks the beginning of a partnership between The Third Story and WBGO Studios. During the month of May, you’ll find another episode from The Third Story archive each week at wbgo.org/studios and then in June, new episodes will drop every other week.

Leo Sidran is a Latin Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, composer and creative coach. Since 2014 he has hosted an influential podcast called The Third Story, featuring interviews with musicians, producers, songwriters and creators of all kinds.