Jon Batiste (l.) appears with Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report.” The new “Late Show” host has named the musician as his band leader.
It’s no joke leading the house band for a late night comedy show.
Stephen Colbert showed he gets that by announcing on Thursday the hiring of ace musician Jon Batiste as band leader for his upcoming “Late Show.”
A master keyboardist, Batiste makes a great choice, both for the range of his expertise and the tone of his character.
Over the years, he has collaborated with stars from the world of jazz (Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Roy Hargrove), as well as those from rock and pop, including Prince, Derek Trucks, Lenny Kravitz, Harry Connick Jr., and more.
Though just 28, Batiste boasts a life-long history in music. He began playing with his family band before puberty. At seven, he showed a talent for percussion and drums. By 12, he switched to the keyboards. He moved to New York to study at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music for his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
There he began playing what has become a signature instrument for him, the melodica, an instrument that has a keyboard on top but also a hole to blow through. It sounds like a new-fangled harmonica.
Batiste has used it with his band Stay Human, whose most recent album, “Social Music,” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Jazz Album chart.
In 2012, Batiste was named Artistic Director at Large for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
The most raucous of Batiste’s music has just the right party vibe for a late night show. He spent years absorbing the sound, and participating in the raucous scene, of the French Quarter. He has also played the New York subways, where he picked up the grit and freedom of our city.
Colbert (l.) takes over for the since-retired David Letterman on CBS’ “Late Show” on Sept. 8.
Batiste has the chops to adapt quickly to the needs of artists from nearly every genre — a requirement for a show like Colbert’s. More, he’s good-looking and can act, as proven by his roles in the HBO show “Treme” and Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer.”
Batiste promises to bring a fresh angle to late night music.
Decades ago, Doc Severinsen gave an oomph of big band jazz to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Starting in the ‘80s, Paul Shaffer lent a classic-rock force to the music on David Letterman’s foray.
Today, The Roots bring a hip-hop flair to Jimmy Fallon’s show, and the horn-driven Cleto and the Cletones inject an R&B vibe to Jimmy Kimmel’s. By contrast, Batiste can offer to Colbert the full New Orleans gumbo.
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” debuts Sept. 8 on CBS.
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