Jon Batiste, 29, has four generations of New Orleans jazz legends behind him, a degree from Julliard, and a knack for playing nearly any instrument you put in front of him. But his performance philosophy, as the bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, is straightforward: play music for the people and with the people. Batiste and his band, Stay Human, can’t keep to the stage; they perform in subways and in front of sandwich shops, even making their way through the aisles and seats at shows.
As the late-night show’s musical director, Batiste embraces playfulness and spontaneity on set. For him, this nightly gig is a chance to keep experimenting with song, collaboration, and humor.
Batiste sings and plays the piano, melodica, electric bass, and Hammond organ. He has released several albums. On set, he’s jammed to everything from the theme song of the classic video game Zelda to the gospel song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
“The thought in the Bible and Christianity, and the spirit within that, is one of the guiding principles in my life,” Batiste told the website Gothamist last year. “It’s rooted there. For me, those lyrics, for instance, when we play live and people are singing together, it’s hard not to love that person singing next to you.”