Hear a Revealing Session with Jon Batiste, Before His Star Turn at the Newport Jazz Fest

Jul 25, 2019

Before he made his leap to stardom as the musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jon Batiste already showed signs that he wanted to change the world for the better.

Batiste, 32, will headline a special concert at the Newport Jazz Festival next Friday, at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He has a new album releasing on the same day: Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard (Verve), which was recorded during an engagement last fall.

In this archival edition of The Checkout, we revisit a Batiste session at WBGO from 2012. The accompanying interview — by Josh Jackson, the founder and original host of the show — is a tour de force on all fronts.

Batiste is pure fire and imagination here, first taking our listeners on a tour of the Louisiana jazz and rhythm and blues tradition by way of folk hero James Booker. Then he deftly pivots to Frédéric Chopin, followed by his own “spontaneous improvisation” inspired by the soundscapes and scenes of New York City. Imagery plays a huge role in Batiste’s songcraft, in the manner of another of his heroes, Duke Ellington.

Josh Jackson used to end his interviews with a trademark, open-ended question. In this case, when he asks: “What Is Music For?” Batiste takes a long, pregnant pause before offering his thoughtful response. This leads the session to its conclusion: an inventive, irrebuttable interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” reminding us how great our country can be if we work together united, with open hearts and open minds.

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