Rowdy Magazine joined Universal Music Group for a magical press conference with Jon Batiste.
( Louis Browne / Curtesy of Universal Music Group )
‘Musician’ has come to be an ambiguous label. In the age of SoundCloud rappers and a questionable Top 40, the term can apply to almost any self-proclaimed profession. But when I say that Jon Batiste is a musician, I mean it in the truest sense of the word.
On Feb. 23, Jon logged onto a virtual press conference with a bright smile, a baby grand piano, and a renaissance-style backdrop.
From the beginning, melodies poured from his fingertips with unbelievable ease. When his hands weren’t dancing across the ivories, they clapped rhythms onto his knees, or lifted into the air in exuberance — it was though the man breathed music.
By his presence alone, it became clear to all of us in the Zoom room how Batiste had become as successful as he has. At just 34-years-old, the Metairie-native is a multi-Emmy and Grammy nominated artist, advocate and educator. Within just the last year, he’s released original music, such as his 2020 album Meditations, been nominated for three Grammy awards, and just recently won a Golden Globe for his composition of Disney’s Soul. Insane.
However, a significant component of his career began in his twenties when he joined The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, with his band, Stay Human. (Imagine making the transition into adulthood on one of television’s most viewed programs.) Jon admitted that he frequently finds himself thinking about those early days. One night he’d find himself backstage chatting with Kendrick Lamar, and the next, playing duo with legendary cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. Although this kind of lifestyle has become his typical day, he always remembers when he thought he’d never be able to perceive it as ‘normal’.
Maybe this type of reflection is why, despite all his accomplishments, he treated a Zoom room filled with college journalists rather humbly. His spirit was undeniably joyous and open for the entirety of the interview.He could never restrain himself from the occasional tune and scat before every answer. (Trust me, no one was complaining. It was this exact energy that broke down the virtual wall that’s present in too many Zoom meetings.)
In the press conference, Batiste accredited a lot of his success to his roots. Growing up in the cultural hotspot that is New Orleans, the man was brought up on the blues (and of course, his favorite, red beans and rice). To him, New Orleans is as an intersection of, “Black culture and world culture, colliding in all these ways that are influential and inspiring.”
His upbringing there was a quintessential part of his development. Living in New York and Los Angeles later on only augmented his appreciation for different cultures, so much so, that they became inspirations for his newest album, We Are.
The album, set to release on March 19, is said to intertwine pieces from different genres. And guessing from the already-released singles, I NEED YOU and CRY, we’re in for a refreshing experience.
According to Batiste, “WE ARE is a message of love for humanity, of humble reverence for our past, and of a hopeful future, in which we are the ones who can save us. The art reveals its motive to you. You just have to wait for the Spirit to tell you what it wants.”
Poetic, huh? Well, Batiste surely has a smooth way with words. And it doesn’t end there.
Disney used Batiste’s piano-fingers as the model for Joe’s musicianship in the movie, Soul. (After meeting the legend on screen, the playing similarities are undeniable.) In addition to stylistically inspiring the animators, a story he improvised when he wasn’t sure the camera was rolling also made the cut.
The opening scene of Soul, when Joe swoons over a jazz player floating off the stage, was taken almost exactly from Jon’s recounting. In the virtual press conference, Batiste actually revealed that he didn’t know Disney was going to use his story and was so surprised when he watched the movie for the first time that he cried.
Just as Joe in the movie Soul, Jon revealed that he felt he wasn’t born to just play music. He was born to entertain, educate and advocate for others, and he’s done so by producing meaningful work, speaking boldly and taking insightful action, such as by participating in Black Lives Matter protests this past summer.
Music, well that’s just his passion. His means of loving. Our passions, he said, give us a window into whatever comes after this. Those of us who only stress on perfecting our one passion are who end up becoming ‘lost souls’.
Everything Jon Batiste touches seems to become illuminated. Whether it's a cozy movie night with Soul or an afternoon break accompanied by WE ARE, Batiste’s personality is there.
WE ARE is set to release on March 19. The album is available for preorder here. While you wait, please enjoy this clip of Jon Batiste exclaiming, “Oh, yeah! Come on Rowdy!”
( A screen recording captured from a Zoom press conference hosted by the °1824 team of Universal Music Group)
Lauren Rousseau is the Online Editorial Director of Rowdy Magazine. When Lauren's not starring at a phone or laptop screen, she enjoys watching ridiculous reality television, stress-baking and listening to music. You can pitch her stories at email@example.com and find her on Instagram @laurenxrousseau
Madeline Murphy is an Online Editor at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words. Her Instagram is @maduhlinemurphy