There is a certain clarity that comes with hindsight and it was not until a few weeks after the press conference hosted by 1824°, that it suddenly became clear that we were a part of a very special, intimate moment with a now, Golden Globe winner and Grammy nominee. Jon Batiste sat comfortably on a grand piano, he put us at ease with an all-around “good vibe”. Regularly bursting out into song his fingers and the piano keys were one, often being so immersed in this state of euphoria that questions could not keep the two apart; a delightful indication of his inseparable ties to his craft.
Out of his Late Show suit in a comfortable all-black tracksuit and bright yellow hoodie restfully tucked under he had a relaxed demeanour and comfortable stance with the camera. He was arguably living in the most important time in his career. As attention turned to the release of his upcoming album, We Are on March 19, Batiste used this moment with us, to reflect on his achievements, life’s alignment, and coherence.
Comprehending the success of someone is often done by looking back at their childhood and upbringing, a thought which spurred our line of questioning as we dived deeper into what a young Jon Batiste would say to the musician now. He was intentional with his response, taking a moment to string together the perfect words which would encapsulate his incredibly colorful career journey. “Wow. He would probably be surprised at how outgoing and how public my career has been given that I was a very introverted shy kid. Some people say I didn’t speak until I was 10, I was always very observant of my surroundings.” Batiste shared much to the surprise of the room.
“I love that you always go through seasons in life, where you are now is not where you could be. That is very important for young people to realise, you have this moment in your life, and this is your time right now. Decisions you make today determine your future, and your future does not have to be the reality of what your present is. And I think that is something my young self would be surprised at. You never know what the future can hold.”
At just 34 years old, Jon Batiste has released 11 albums and EP’s (not including his latest release), he is the Music Director of The Atlantic and Artistic Co-Director and Creative Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and activist. If you have watched Soul, you will know the overall message is life’s meaning and finding your purposefulness. Having seen him shine on stage you’d be forgiving for thinking that the musical realm would be where this purpose was realised, however, while Batiste acknowledges his talents he revealed that what he felt he was called to do extended far beyond performing.“I think everything is a means to love each other and appoint things to the creator of all things. People’s passion can become so much of themselves they lose touch with reality; I think our talents are a means to love each other and point each other to god. And give us a window for what is to come that is bigger and better.”
While there can be little doubt that Batiste is an extraordinary talent, beyond his musical prowess the singer dazzled the room with his clarity of thought. Most memorable was his profound description of passion during which he referred to the heart as our “built-in passion finding mechanism”. With emotions being there to motivate us and the mind there to help logically process information, Batiste referenced the dangers of being led astray when heart and mind do not align, closing his revelation with the statement “Your passion is only your purpose when your heart and mind are aligned”.
Born and raised in New Orleans, he thanks the South’s slow pace nature toward life for the way it encouraged reflection And diversity. From architecture to food, he believes “that subconsciously you can appreciate different ways of life before you can verbalise what that is”. He is now reaping his rewards for his incomparable contributions to the Disney-Pixar film Soul, which has just won a Golden Globe for Best Soundtrack.
If you still need to watch Soul, it is a joyous outlook to the purpose of our existence. It is even more special to understand the meaning behind a beloved character or when they are based on someone admirable in real-life. Batiste admitted that his input on the film moved him to tears, as the improvised first scene was a dialogue written by the musician. The film was authentic to his persona, in a New York Times article, it said that the production team used 80 Gro-pro cameras to film Jon Batiste as he played piano, making the animated character of Joe, as genuine as possible. “I was crying because I just didn’t know that it would look like that and I worked on it for over two years. I knew it would influence a lot of people and their understanding of jazz and the lineage of jazz music. To actually see yourself in it is so powerful, it is definitely one of my favourite parts of my creative journey.”
Jon Batiste uses his influence and love for music in more ways than entertainment but also teachings. When asked the question, “How does being a musician align with being an activist”, his answer was simple, he a being human. “I look at my role as an activist and a musician under the one umbrella of being a human; I think that being a human being creates the opportunity for you to tap into your divine nature or your lower nature… so I am just trying to be the best version of myself. This creates opportunities for activism, music, and everything in-between. It is all one.’
He went on to explain how music can be used in initiating social change, “music changes people emotions and thoughts and how they happen. It makes it feel communal, you have music at BBQ’s, worship services, funerals, you have had music in all contexts of social gatherings throughout time. Music has always been a social glue, and if you get people together and make people feel the emotion at the same time. It is making it easier to have a dialogue. Within the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King used music to march through, it is just the oldest trick in the book! Universal equations! That’s it!”
As an artist, Jon Batiste is determined to move people with his work. When asked what listeners should expect from We Are, Batiste described called the project as a Black pop masterpiece akin to a novel or a movie, where you can’t skip a scene or else you’ll miss vital details. His imminent album is welcomed with a wealth of anticipation and excitement and is set to be as free-flowing as his spirit.