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

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

Jon Batiste at the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute's Aspen Ideas Festival in 2015.
Courtesy photo |

Jon Batiste will open the Jazz Aspen June Experience this evening with Stay Human — his jazz-rock outfit that America has gotten to know well over the past two years as the house band on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

While their on-air duties tend to be limited to the roaring theme song that Batiste composed and quick intro music for Colbert’s guests, Jon Batiste and Stay Human actually rock.

At a taping I attended in October, I learned that the commercial breaks are mini-concerts where Stay Human rips through cover songs and originals and puts on a hell of a show. During one break, the cowboy hat-wearing percussionist Joe Saylor sprinted up and down the spiral staircase at the side of the stage and pounded his tambourine so hard on the railing that it splintered into pieces. (A stagehand swept it up in time for Colbert’s next segment.)

Batiste’s high-profile late-night gig also has some surprising Aspen roots. During a trip to the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2014, the New Orleans-bred and New York-based pianist met a producer for “The Colbert Report,” who soon booked him and Stay Human on the show for a late July 2014 appearance. That meeting with Colbert eventually landed him the job as Colbert’s bandleader on “The Late Show” when Colbert took over the show from David Letterman in September 2015.

The pair bonded during and after Batiste’s spot on the show, Batiste recalled at Ideas Fest in 2015, 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!’”

Colbert soon offered Batiste the gig.

“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 before his “Late Show” launched, 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.

The last time he was in town, Batiste also surprised piano students at the Aspen Music Festival and School, popping into a class in Edlis Neeson Hall on the Castle Creek Road campus, taking time to speak to and play with them. He also led an impromptu New Orleans-style second line through the Doerr-Hosier Center at Ideas Fest after an interview with Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson during his 2015 Aspen visit.

Along with his June Experience set, Batiste is speaking on an Aspen Institute “Spotlight Health” panel on Saturday and a Jazz Aspen Snowmass brunch event Sunday.

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