During º1824’s virtual press conference last Tuesday, New Orleans native Jon Batiste dove into how his musical upbringing shaped him, working on Disney’s SOUL, his creative process and his forthcoming album, WE ARE.
From New Orleans to New York City
The Grammy and Emmy nominated musician, activist and artist is best known for being the musical director and band leader of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. But Batiste got his start in The Big Easy. “I’m still on the journey to be honest but I was really in a musical environment,” Batiste said when asked about what inspired him to play music. “I grew up in New Orleans. My father is a musician, I have uncles and cousins that are obviously musicians and [New Orleans] is a very musical city. It’s a hub of Black culture and world culture colliding ways that are influential and inspiring.” Music runs through his veins.
Before moving to New York when he was 17 years old to attend Juilliard, Batiste attended St. Augustine High School and NOCCA alongside other young creatives including Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Although he received Bachelors and Master of Music, Batiste mentioned he “never was someone who thought I’m going to go and be a musician. I just was pursuing things that inspired me and it led me down the path from New Orleans to New York.”
The Heart, Spirit and Soul behind SOUL
Did you know that Jon Batiste is the inspiration for Disney’s SOUL soundtrack? He not only composed and arranged the music for the film but he also served as a source for filmmakers and animators. Although Soul‘s main character, Joe Gardner, is voiced by actor Jamie Foxx, Batiste’s piano playing was animated for the film. “The first scene really moved me a lot,” Batiste disclosed. “I wrote the dialogue in that scene…you see how he’s playing and the words that he’s saying.” Batiste expressed that the scene brought him to tears because he saw so much of himself in Joe Gardner’s character.
The process of the film took about two years and Batiste made it his goal to “find chord structures in melodies that felt [both] ground in Earth and in the New York world of jazz” that he experienced as a teenager within the jazz scene. His meticulous work did not go unnoticed. Yesterday, Jon Batiste along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Original Score for Soul.
With his insight, Batiste was able to help bring jazz, its culture and its sacred lineage to a new generation through the film. He accredits his work with SOUL as one of his “favorite parts of his creative life thus far.” Listen to the Soul (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). The film is available now on Disney+.
Throughout the press conference, Batiste’s uplifting and radiant energy shined through along with his passion for music. That same effervescent energy is exuded throughout his recent single, “I NEED YOU.” The single is one of thirteen tracks on his upcoming album, WE ARE. The free-flowing album, dropping on March 19th, will introduce the world to a deeper side of Jon Batiste. The powerful and genre-defying body of work features soul, jazz, R&B, trap and gospel sounds. “It’s so expansive in terms of sound. It’s genre-less,” Batiste remarked. “It’s like a black-pop masterpiece.”
Music brings people together while telling a story and WE ARE is no different. “It’s a novel and if you close your eyes, it’s a movie. It is meant to be listened to like a novel you don’t skip chapters of or a movie where if you skip the scene you don’t even know what happened,” Batiste said when describing his newest work. WE ARE represents a completely new sonic chapter for Jon Batiste. He recommends listening to the album in one sitting. You’ll leave “feeling very full every time you just listen to it. It’s almost like it’s like a 45-minute meditation that you could take every day.”
The Creative Process
Batiste discussed the sensitivity of the creative process and how the essences and influences of New York City, New Orleans and Los Angeles are infused into his upcoming album. “There’s almost no choice in how the environment seeps into the work,” Batiste shared. “The history of the place that I’m in, the instrument that I’m using, the mic that I’m singing into, the shoes that I’m dancing in or whatever it is – it goes into the work.” A lot of the recording of the album was done in his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater where he tapes The Late Show. He noted that all of the energy is there in the theater stemming from the legendary Carol Burnett to artists like the Beatles, James Brown and Elvis Presley!
“I had the pleasure of working with many different musicians and different creatives who brought their energy and their life story to the record. That was all very meaningful to me,” Batiste said. WE ARE features New Orleans natives including PJ Morton, the Hot 8 Brass Band, Gospel Soul Children, his former classmate – Trombone Shorty, and his alma mater St Augustine High School’s Marching Band. The album is described as being ‘characterized by the consciousness of Marvin Gaye, the grounded optimism of Stevie Wonder, the iconoclasm of Thelonious Monk and the swagger of Mannie Fresh.’
Waiting for March 19th!
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jon Batiste live, most recently at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. And like Tank and the Bangas, his jubilant energy is unmatched – definitely a New Orleans thing! I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the album especially “BOY HOOD” (feat. PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty). And I can’t wait for live music to return so I can see Jon Batiste and the Dap-Kings kill it on the Gentilly stage again!