Jon Batiste is an ambassador of Black Music. The New Orleans native proudly carries the torch of the Black music tradition with dexterous musicality and a liberated spirit. As a bandleader, composer and master pianist—who hails from a long dynasty of master musicians—he has pushed the boundaries of jazz by incorporating elements of R&B, soul, funk and hip-hop into his productions.

As a child prodigy, musical family's background help influence his creative voice. He studied jazz at the prestigious Juilliard School and founded his band Stay Human which boasts some of the most renowned musicians in the world. In 2015, Batiste became the musical director of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Stay Human became the house band.

For composing the score of Soul, Pixar's first animated film featuring a Black lead, Batiste won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Film Award.

One of Batiste's core beliefs is that music can help cure the ills of society and like all the musicians that inspired his artistry, he embodies the ideal of Black freedom.

After years of touring the world and compiling a highly regarded catalogue of music, in 2021, he released We Are, his magnum opus, to both critical and commercial acclaim, receiving eight Grammy nominations—going on to win four, including Album of the Year.

Moreover, he made it on to Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list this year.

For his latest project, Batiste has teamed up with Amazon for their Prime Day event. Donning a Jheri curl and vintage 80’s outfit in the visual, Batiste reimagines Billy Ocean’s hit, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car," with his own  “Get Into My Cart," for the campaign. He shares, ”In thinking about this collaboration with Amazon and the way that Billy Ocean’s hybrid combined 80s new wave funk with a Caribbean influence that’s part of his lineage and his roots, and just the way he synthesized all that together was brilliant. I loved his music before this and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to pay homage to him in his original music video.”

EBONY caught up with Batiste who discussed the cultural uniqueness of New Orleans, working with his heroes and how music can change the world.

EBONY: You grew up in a family full of amazing musicians. It’s almost like you were destined to be where you are today. What was it like being surrounded by so much music during your childhood?

Jon Batiste: You know, my family is very musical. There are three or four generations of musicians in our family but there were a lot of musical families in New Orleans. That was just a normal thing to see and be a part of so that was a big influence because I looked at music as a part of the social fabric of the community. There wasn't even a separation between the musicians and the community. In New Orleans, we play music for a barbecue, when somebody passes away or when somebody is born. There's music for certain foods [Laughs]. Music is everywhere and it's transcendent.

As we all know, New Orleans is unlike any city in the world. It’s the epicenter of Blackness in America in a lot of ways. How has the "Crescent City" inspired you as a musician and influenced your perspective on the world?

Well, I grew up thinking that that was normal. And you travel the world and you realize, "Wow, there's no place like this. This is a really special place." So thinking that that was normal was a real influence on me because I didn't think about music as a profession. First, I thought of it as just a part of everyday life, everybody played music as a hobby, or just as a part of the culture, even if they weren't professional musicians. 

In 2015, you began showing up in people's homes five days a week as the bandleader and musical director of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. How did you first connect with Colbert and how has that experience been?

I met him a year before we started on the Late Show when I performed at The Colbert Report in July of 2015. When we first met each other our energies immediately connected. We began speaking over time and started talking about his new show and the rest is history. Stephen has been incredible to work with. When I started doing the Late Show, Questlove, Paul Shaffer and Kevin Eubanks all gave me advice. They told me that when they started out in late-night they had already been on the road for 20 years. They told me that I’m the youngest person ever to do it at 25 years old. For me, it's been an incredible journey.

How do you make the time and have the energy to make everything happen?

I have the energy just because this is the beginning of my career. I'm just getting started, so I have the energy to explore things. I'm curious about what's to come and how I can learn. I'm always trying to grow and evolve. I'm driven to continue to discover what's next.

The 2021 Grammy Awards had to be an amazing experience for you. It turned out to be The Jon Batiste Show. You're part of the cadre of 11 Black artists to have won Album of the Year. You were the first Black artist to win that category since Herbie Hancock, a fellow jazz pianist, won it back in 2008. After years of recording and performing, it must have been a remarkable feeling to have your work recognized on such a large scale.

It's funny, that you mentioned Herbie, I had another incredible parallel with Mr. Hancock two years ago. When I won the Oscar, he was the first and only Black composer to ever win the Oscar for Original Score. The next day, I went to his house. We sat, we meditated, we prayed, we played piano, and we listened to records. We spent about six or seven hours together and we really bonded. The next year, when I won a Grammy, he was the last Black composer artist to win the Grammy for Album of the Year. I'm always honored to be connected to folks like that who are living legends, giants of the culture, and music. I'm glad to be in the history books, with these incredible people who when I was coming up, a lot of them supported me. I'm working with Quincy Jones right now. 

He wrote such a great tribute to you for your Time’s 100 Most Influential People recognition.

That was such an honor and blessing,

Lastly, on top of all the many projects you're working on, you'll be playing both the Pilgrimage Music and Culture Festival and Roots n Blues Festival. Also, you’re curating the American Symphony at Carnegie Hall. What are you most looking forward to with these upcoming performances?

I'm excited to share my music in all of my upcoming concerts. I had to cancel the performance at Carnegie Hall when I got COVID, so I’m looking forward to doing that show after postponing. The symphony is going to be 40-minutes long with four movements. We’ll be using different musicians from different backgrounds. I’m really looking forward to redefining the symphonic experience and sharing it with the world.