Jon Batiste’s ‘Late Show’ gig has Aspen roots

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Jon Batiste photographed Thursday during a surprise visit with students at the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Ryan Cutler/Courtesy photo |

Jon Batiste, recently named Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” bandleader, returned to the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. His first trip here, for the 2014 edition of the festival, proved to be a fruitful experience.

At last year’s festival at the Aspen Institute, Batiste met a producer for “The Colbert Report,” who soon booked him and his band, Stay Human, on the show for a late July 2014 appearance. That meeting with Colbert eventually landed him the gig as Colbert’s bandleader on “The Late Show,” which begins when Colbert takes over the show from David Letterman in September.

The pair bonded during and after Batiste’s spot on the show last year, Batiste recalled Friday, and had a series of long conversations.

“He was just asking me a lot of questions, and he would sit back and listen, and then he’d talk for a long time about his ideas and say, ‘What do you think of that? Are you into that?’” Batiste said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah!’”

Last month, Colbert called Batiste and offered the New Orleans-bred, New York-based 28-year-old the high-profile bandleader job.

“He’s a very human sort of comedian that thinks about how to give a different perspective on everything that’s happening in the world,” Batiste said. “So we relate philosophically based on what I’m trying to do with social music.”

“Social Music” is the title of a 2013 Batiste album and a term he’s used for harnessing music as a community-builder in society. Colbert traveled to New Orleans to better understand his new musical partner, going to music clubs along Frenchmen Street, eating Batiste’s mother’s red beans in his family home and filming a segment for the show.

Along with his Ideas Fest events last week, Batiste surprised piano students at the Aspen Music Festival and School on Thursday, popping into a class in Edlis Neeson Hall on the Castle Creek Road campus, taking time to speak to and play with them. On Friday night, the pianist gave a concert and was interviewed by Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson at the Ideas Festival. And on Saturday, he joined trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Isaacson onstage for a Fourth of July performance and conversation about the history of jazz.

Activities & Events