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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Late Night Gets Jazzy: Meet Stephen Colbert’s New Bandleader, Jon Batiste

Colbert's new band leader Jon Batiste will be performing two spontaneous street concerts, "Love Riots" this week. Find him Monday June 8 at 2pm in Union Square and Tuesday at 6pm at Bedford in Williamsburg. See video here.

“Ah, man,” exhales jazz stud Jon Batiste of a tremendous opportunity he's just earned. “It’s going to be great.” Batiste is months away from starting his new gig as bandleader on CBS’ Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which debuts Tuesday, September 8.

Joy is evident in the 28-year-old Louisiana talent’s voice. “I’m thrilled! This is a match made in heaven. Get ready for a love riot in late night,” said Batiste.”

Known for taking his jaw-dropping music to the streets in his signature “love riots,” Batiste's most recent studio album, Social Music,reached #1 on Billboard’s Jazz Album Chart. He appeared as himself on HBO’s “Treme”and as Da Organist Tk Hazelton in Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer.” In 2012,Batiste was appointed the Artistic Director at Large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, educating people about the museum and assisting with programming. Named one of ARTINFO’s “30 Under 30” most influential people in the art world,Batiste is a Movado Future Legend Award recipient and is one of the youngest Steinway Performing Artists of all time. Batiste’s first album on a major label will be released in the fall of 2015.


“I have a really great team,” Jon humbly says of how he got the coveted job where he follows Paul Shaffer, who handled the musical heavy lifting on the now retired David Letterman’s Late Night. “They go out and really represent me well. I just focus on the creative and I found great business people to put around me.”

Tribeca Film caught up with Batiste recently while he was working on his next album. He pulled an all-nighter, which thankfully included, “some studio naps.” Soon he’ll call New York City home, but his goal amongst others is to further the legacy of local Louisiana legends like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton that, “set up a legacy for us to carry forward in our own way in the 21st Century.”

Find out who Batiste will call on for late night music advice, if he has any clue what he’s really going to do on the show and how he landed the role below.

TRIBECA: How did you become Colbert’s band leader?

I was a guest on The Colbert Report twice. And [The Colbert team] was really enthusiastic about them. I could sense that maybe something could happen with us in the future, but nothing was official. Maybe about a month ago, I found out that they were interested in bringing me on for the show. It was a quick turnaround.

TRIBECA: Was it an easy decision to make?

Well, it was one of those things where I was already thinking about where my band would go next and the direction we would take. We’d just gotten off from a nine-month tour supporting my Social Music album. We were all over the world. So I was recalibrating and during my time off, I got the call. Timing just works out like that.

TRIBECA: Being band leader for a late night show is an odd job in that it’s probably not something you were wishing for when you were a child first picking up your instrument and dreaming about the future.

I used to see things like this job and wonder what people had to do to get there, wonder what their past is and what it takes to be viewed by millions of people on television. But it was always in my subconscious to do a lot of the things that I’m doing now. Even this, I’ve thought about it before. I remember seeing Branford Marsalis, who is also from New Orleans, lead the band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I saw that as a youngster and thought that was a really cool thing.

TRIBECA: What will your role be on the show as far as interacting with Stephen?

Man, I’m not even sure yet. The first show is in September. Right now we’re just trying to figure out what the next iteration of not only what I’m doing is, but what he’ll be doing. How will he interview guests and what will our interaction be during those moments? What’s the tone of the show going to be? No one knows yet.


TRIBECA: Are you ready to be a fixture on social media and on YouTube for your potential roles in the show’s comedic moments?

[Laughs] Yeah. The way the world is now is we share information through the Internet. This show is going to have a lot of influence there. It’s great to have a platform like that, because you don’t know where that can take you. The possibilities are endless.

TRIBECA: One thing that was noticeable in your last Colbert Report appearance is your charisma and New Orleans charm. Are you planning on bringing those to this new show?

The personality is something that’s essential when you’re on any type of TV program. That’s what carries the jokes or drama, whatever the premise of the show is. The personality of the cast and their chemistry together has to show. So I’m sure once we develop ours on set, there will be a lot of opportunities that come from that. My personality is going to be a facet of me that you’ll see that maybe you don’t when in another context, like at one of my concerts or at a festival. So I think that’s going to open a lot of doors for me creatively. That’s the main thing I’m really focused on. I’m trying not to get anxious. It’s going to have its stresses and rewards all in due time. I’m just thinking about how I can show this new facet and represent what I represent musically and translate that into an on-camera personality that blends with the rest of the cast.

TRIBECA: Have you been following and watching other late night TV bandleaders?

I have a relationship with The Roots [on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon]. I have the closest relationship with them of anyone else that does late night music. I know Paul Schaffer as well. That’s the amazing thing about that platform, by the way. If you don’t know anything about Paul’s recordings, you still know who he is. That says a lot. You can do a lot with that in this generation that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago.

TRIBECA: Will you be in touch with [The Roots’] drummer Questlove?

He’ll definitely be one of the first people I talk to...Paul Shaffer as well. I want to pick their brains and see what they did. I want to learn as quick as I can before we go on air.

TRIBECA: What’s your overall goal with this show as band leader?

My music is about intent, specifically the intent to bring people together from all different backgrounds. I’ve played on stage and asked the audience to come outside with us to dance in the rain spontaneously. On set, who knows how it will reveal itself. We think about music in that way. We’re more the same than we are different.

Watch Jon Batiste in conversation about jazz and meeting Quincy Jones at The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival:


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