An exclusive with ‘The Late Show’ bandleader and producer of Disney’s ‘Soul’ soundtrack

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Wes Davenport Courtesy of Universal Music Group.

Jon Batiste’s new album “We Are” is set to release on March 19, titled “We Are.”

Jon Batiste, the bandleader of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and the producer of Disney and Pixar’s “Soul” soundtrack, will soon release a personal album. Batiste has had a busy year, but he recently made time to sit down in a virtual press conference on Feb. 23 to talk about life, love and of course, music. 

“[I] just try to be the best version of myself,” Batiste said. “And it creates opportunities for activism and creates opportunities for creating music, it creates opportunities for you know, everything in between. And that’s it. It is all one.”

Batiste has come a long way from being a shy boy from Louisiana. He has become a renowned musician and public figure. He has also been recognized for his social advocacy and the incorporation of Black culture in his music. Batiste considers his role as an activist and his role as a musician as being synonymous, where each lends itself to the other. 

Originally from Louisiana, Jon Batiste uses influences from cities like New Orleans and New York City when creating his music.
Originally from Louisiana, Jon Batiste uses influences from cities like New Orleans and New York City when creating his music.

Some of the musical influences in Batiste’s life come from his upbringing in the South. Having grown up up around music, it’s no wonder Batiste ended up becoming a musician. 

“I think growing up in Louisiana, in particular, there’s so much that’s culturally different to many other places in the world,” Batiste said. 

In Batiste’s eyes, the combination of Spanish, French and African cultures in Louisiana have subconsciously taught him to appreciate and respect differences in culture, tradition and community.

Batiste eventually left his home in New Orleans at 17 to study music at Julliard, a prestigious arts school in New York City. 

With an album titled “We Are” on the way, Batiste says that listeners can expect to hear elements from cities like New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. 

“Soul” is the first film in Pixar history to feature a Black lead character. This is obviously important to Batiste, as he played a role as the creator of the film’s soundtrack.

Jon Batiste, 34, is the bandleader for "The Late Show" and the producer of the new Disney film "Soul."
Jon Batiste, 34, is the bandleader for “The Late Show” and the producer of the new Disney film “Soul.”

Batiste described the plot of “Soul.” The opening scene of the film is where we meet the main character, Joe, a middle school band teacher. The scene consists of Joe playing a few jazzy tunes on the piano. Batiste provided dialogue for the scene, so he modeled some of Joe’s behavior after himself. 

Batiste admitted to becoming emotional when he realized this scene would open the film and put jazz, his life’s passion, front and center.

“It’s something that I knew was going to be very important and it had a really powerful spirit to it,” Batiste said, “and it would influence a lot of people in their understanding of jazz and … the sacred lineage of jazz music.”

Like Joe, Batiste has spent time in New York and felt it was important to communicate to the audience the feeling of New York jazz. He constructed melodies to sound like they were grounded in New York sounds. 

His passion and high energy could be felt through the screen as he played a tune on the piano between questions. 

Batiste’s upcoming album, “We Are,” will be released on March 19 and preorders are available on his website.

Sophia Pearson can be reached at [email protected] or @sophia__pearson on Twitter.