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Music

Jon Batiste On Sharing Joy In A Painful Year: 'I Want To Reaffirm People's Humanity'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We have a great, entertaining show that seems right for the holiday, this Independence Day that comes just a couple of weeks after Juneteenth was declared a national holiday. We're going to hear my interview with composer, pianist, bandleader and singer Jon Batiste and with Batiste at his home piano so he could play and sing for us, including doing his interpretations of the national anthem and the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice."

This year, Batiste won an Oscar, Golden Globe and a Critics' Choice Award for composing the jazz music for the Pixar animated film "Soul," which is streaming on Disney+. He also arranged and performed that part of the score. Batiste is the music director and bandleader of "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." During the pandemic lockdown, Batiste got into the streets to perform at protests after George Floyd was killed and to play pop-up performances, including at a mass vaccination site in New York.

We recorded our interview in March, after the release of his album "We Are," which reflects his love of soul, R&B, pop, gospel and marching bands, as well as jazz. And of course, you can hear the influence of New Orleans, where he's from and where his family is known for playing music. He started performing with his family's band when he was a child.

Let's start with the title track from "We Are."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE")

JON BATISTE: (Singing) The ghetto is full of stars. Watch them shine from afar on days when it's hard and always. Nana knows how to sing and soothes us all from summer to fall and always. Joy, she won't let it go. Oh, no. Joy that she doesn't know, what she doesn't know. We are, we are, we are, we are the golden ones. We are, we are, we are, we are the chosen ones. We are, we are, we are, we are the chosen ones. We are, we are, we are, we are the golden ones. We're never alone, no, no. We're never alone. The country is full of stars, but they're in a war, blind in the dark.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: That's the title track of Jon Batiste's new album, "We Are." Jon Batiste, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I love this album. It is great to have you back on the show. What's the backstory of this song? How did you write it? It's - you know, it's the title track of your album. It's the name you've given protests that you've led.

BATISTE: Yep, yep, "We Are." It's the question and it's the answer all in one. And the backstory is really something that happened in a six-day recording session in my dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater - six days, 24/7, musicians. I was in and out of the dressing room. At the time, I was also composing the score for "Soul" during "The Late Show" and several other projects. But I had this bug to create. So I set up this studio in the dressing room, had food deliveries coming in at all hours. And after six days, we had the blueprint, really the vision for what this album would be in about five or six songs. And "We Are" was one of the last songs that we created during that six days.

And over the course of eight or nine months, ending during the first wave of the pandemic, I finished the album and cast the album - meaning I took all of these different demos and different sketches and found the right people to bring them to life. My high school marching band is on this song. It's a historically Black high school, St. Augustine High School. And many leaders in the community, many leaders across the world in different sectors went to that school. And I went to that school, and I was in the Marching 100.

And my grandfather's on this track. He's preaching. My nephews are on this track. They're 5 and 11 years old at the time when we recorded this. And it represents the multigenerational realizations that we're undergoing right now, the multigenerational unlearning, the inherited struggles, the inherited triumphs. And the Gospel Soul Children choir's on this song. They're an institution in New Orleans music and represent the deep faith and spiritual underpinning of all of the music that's presented here. And there's so many others that have collaborated with me on this album.

GROSS: Yeah. So The St. Augustine Marching 100 is on here. That's the marching band from St. Augustine High School, which is a - it's a special high school that you went to. It's a historically Black school. But what else made it special? Like, was it a neighborhood school or sort of a school you had to apply to get into?

BATISTE: You have to apply to get into it. It's very rigorous academically. And there's just a lot of family ties there. Many people go there and they're the third or fourth generation by the time that I was there that have went to the school. My family has many members of the alumni. And it's just something that ties the community together in many ways. So beyond it just being an excellent school, there's so much that it represents in particular in the Black community. And at the time that it was founded, there was nothing like it.

GROSS: I want to play another song from the new album. And this is, like, a very joyful song. It's called "I Need You." And it's so well-produced. I'd love it if you could play, like, the sketch of the song, when the idea for the song was germinating and you were in the process of composing it and it was - when it was still a kind of naked song without all the production. If you could do that for us and then we can hear what it sounds like fully produced, that would be great. Would that be OK?

BATISTE: Yes, that's great. So "I Need You" really starts with the bass line. You hear this bass line all throughout American music. (Playing piano). See? (Playing piano). Early rhythm and blues, Black social music, rock 'n' roll, all of it has this kind of - (playing piano). And that bass line is something that is really important in American music because it's the dance bass line.

It has something in it that makes you want to get up and dance immediately, which is what we wanted this song to have, that spirit of dance and joy, as if you were rekindling that feeling that happened back when people played in the Chitlin' Circuit, you know, Little Richard playing in the Chitlin' Circuit or the feeling of the Lindy Hop or the jitterbug in Harlem in the '30s. I wanted to capture that and blend it with what you might hear on pop radio or in a hip-hop song, and sonically, that's what we did. We took this - (playing piano). We took that bass line and blended it with 808 kick drums. And we put all types of different drum programming around that feeling of the acoustic bass played by the wonderful Endea Owens of Stay Human - (playing piano).

And then once we had that laid out, the rest - it just was self-explanatory. What story do you want to tell? That's what I always ask myself. What is it that I want to say? What do I want people to take away from this? And when you hear the lyric - (singing) In this world with a lot of problems, all we need is a little loving - that's it, all we need.

GROSS: Oh, that's great. Thank you. So let's hear the actual recording of it fully produced from Jon Batiste's new album "We Are."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEED YOU")

BATISTE: (Singing) We done a lot of living. We working overtime. Don't need another million. You got that gold mine. I love the way you're living 'cause you're so genuine. You got that something special. Didn't you know? I just need you, you, you. Met you when I was a little nappy-head boy, and I never put down my alto saxophone, yeah. Buck-jumping down on the boulevard, I couldn't wait to blow my own horn. It ain't wrong for you to play along, playing this song till you die. Come on, come on. In this world with a lot of problems, all we need is a little love. Thank you, thank you. Oh, you make me thank you, thank you for your love. We done a lot of living...

GROSS: That's "I Need You" from Jon Batiste's new album "We Are."

So, you know, your emphasis in your music is often on joy. And, like, that track, you wrote it before the pandemic or during the pandemic?

BATISTE: So that track was something that also occurred during the six days that I was in my dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater, which - important side note - is the dressing room of the great Carol Burnett. She told me that two years into me having that dressing room. I didn't realize it until I met her, and we worked on this project together, and she said, you have my dressing room. And long story short, I started to record out of it and try to tap into all of the spirits that are present in that building. And this song was the last song of that initial six days in September 2019.

GROSS: My guest is composer, arranger and pianist and singer Jon Batiste. His latest album is called "We Are." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "KENNER BOOGIE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with composer, pianist and singer Jon Batiste. His latest album is called "We Are." He's the music director and bandleader on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." And this year, he won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for composing the jazz sections of the score for the Pixar film "Soul," which is streaming on Disney+.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Over the summer, you played at some protests after George Floyd was killed. How did you figure out what mood you wanted to express musically? Because I think there's been something of a discussion about whether these protests should include joy or whether they should just be - you know, express, you know, the anger at the injustices.

BATISTE: I want to reaffirm people's humanity when it's been under such duress and when it's under attack. Thinking about people who exist in the world at this time, you're constantly bombarded with so much via politics, via all of the mass media. Everything is kind of targeting people, pushing them to pick a side. And I wanted to articulate through the music and through my presence there that we're all in this together. We're all existing in this space, this city. And ultimately, this is our time. This is our world. We have to come together and understand that or else everything is going to completely disintegrate.

GROSS: You've performed the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice," and I would love it if you could play that for us now. It's such a stirring song. And it dates back to the early 1900s. It was written with a lyric by James Weldon Johnson and music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. And this song has just lived on and become a really important anthem. Tell us what it means to you, when you first heard it.

BATISTE: It's ubiquitous. It's one of those songs that whether you at a Black barbecue (laughter) or if you're watching a sporting event - in particular, if you have gone to sporting events in the South, you know, like to Bayou Classic or HBCU events, you'll hear it. Or if you go to church, Black churches - you know, talk about my grandfather on the record, well, he's an elder in the AME Church, and (laughter) you're going to hear that song. But - I laugh because it just brings back so many memories of community. And really, what I strive to create a lot when I perform - there just is a sense of joy that comes from community. And that song is one of the pillars of the Black community.

GROSS: Would you play and sing "Lift Every Voice" for us?

BATISTE: Absolutely.

(Vocalizing, singing) Lift every voice and sing, till Earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty. Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies. Let it resound, loud as a rolling sea.

GROSS: That was beautiful. Oh, thank you so much (laughter) - kind of speechless. So, you know, that is a song that has such deep meaning. You've also performed "The Star-Spangled Banner," and you've kind of reclaimed it and rearranged it and put in so many different strains of American music into it. It's a very unsingable song for most people 'cause the range is so big. But you made something really musically wonderful with it. Would you play us your interpretation or one of your many interpretations of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and make it your own?

BATISTE: I oftentimes think about "The Star-Spangled Banner" (playing piano) as something that synthesizes the history of America, warts and all. And in all of my interpretations of it, I try to acknowledge what has not been acknowledged in the history of our country in the stories that we tell and also in its founding, which in large part is taking Black music and synthesizing it into "The Star-Spangled Banner." So a very explicit example of how I did that is with the blending of "Lift Every Voice And Sing" into "The Star-Spangled Banner," which happened at the reopening of the NBA season.

(Playing piano) Now, if you're listening, you'll hear that in my left hand, that's the melody of "Lift Every Voice And Sing" that's functioning as the countermelody, the counterpoint, to the melody of "The Star-Spangled Banner." So you'll hear, (singing) Lift every voice and sing till Earth and heaven ring.

It also functions as the baseline. So the base motion and the countermelody is "Lift Every Voice And Sing," and at the top, you'll hear - (playing piano, vocalizing). Now, when you put these two together, what you have is a melody in three and a melody in four. Now, when you have three against four, that polyrhythm, (clapping) - what is that? That's Africa.

(Clapping, singing) Lift every voice and sing - that's a three - in Earth and heaven - and then - (playing piano). So now if you put it together - (playing piano) - do you hear the connection?

GROSS: Yeah, and it also ends up being a little dissonant at points, which seems appropriate.

BATISTE: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

BATISTE: It's a tonal allegory, and I think that when you put music in that context, at that event in particular, the reopening of the NBA season, all of the players kneeling in arms, representing so much of what we're dealing with in that moment, I truly believe that's music that exists at its highest potential. It's not about commodification. It's not about anything but capturing the moment and really helping it to reflect truth.

Now, this arrangement also included a bounce beat, which is something that came in in the middle of the arrangement. A bounce beat is something that come from New Orleans music. It's a regional style of dance-slash-hip-hop music that comes from the projects in New Orleans. And it has become something that many artists nationally have taken and used as an influence. But I wanted to include that rhythm, as well as rhythms from Africa, to kind of connect those two origin stories of the Black diaspora manifesting in American culture.

GROSS: My guest is composer, arranger, pianist and singer Jon Batiste. He's the music director and bandleader on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." His latest album is called "We Are." We'll talk more and hear more music after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

BATISTE: (Singing) When I move my body just like this, I don't know why, but I feel like freedom. I hear a song that takes me back, and I let go with so much freedom. Free to live how I'm going to live. I'm going to get what I want to get 'cause it's my freedom. I love how you talk. You speaking my language. The way that you walk, you can't contain it. Is it the shoes?

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded in March with composer, pianist and singer Jon Batiste. He's the music director and bandleader for "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." This year, he won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for composing the jazz parts of the score for the animated film "Soul," which is streaming on Disney+. His latest album is called "We Are." He was at his home piano for our interview. When we left off, he had played his blended version of the national anthem and the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You've also played a more kind of upbeat, like, joyful version of the national anthem that includes different styles of American music, and I'm wondering if you could do some of that for us, to show what you did with that to make a musical statement.

BATISTE: Absolutely. (Playing piano). So now right off the bat - three harmonization creates a different narrative scope and direction as to where it could go. This chord - (playing piano) - these chords are also the beautiful types of harmonies that you would hear in the early 20th century, when classical music and jazz music in America had this golden age of being synthesized, this sort of - (playing piano) - Duke Ellington, Ravel-esque - you hear this in Gershwin - all of these different kinds of sounds coming together. I really love that. And then - (playing piano) - now, that's a progression that you'll hear in a lot of the contemporary gospel church. (Playing piano) Hallelujah. (Playing piano). So I put that in there, snuck it in, you know? So - (playing piano). (Laughter). (Playing piano).

Now, this part is the celestial - (vocalizing, playing piano). Now - oh, my goodness. This is giving me an emotion.

GROSS: (Laughter)

BATISTE: This is giving me an emotion. So when you have that feeling, when you're looking up - oh, say, can you see - that's the stars. (Playing piano, singing) Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light, oh so proudly we hail that the twilight's last gleaming...

The twilight. The twilight - (playing piano). Wow. Ooh. There's a lot you could say about that. I'm keep going, though. So then that happens again, and when I get to the end of the second stanza, I pay homage to Jimi Hendrix, except on the piano (laughter, playing piano). This is what I like to call creating distortion on the piano or the lion's roar. It goes through different names in my head. It's just a vibe that I wanted to create from listening to Jimi. And then I go - (playing piano). You see. That's my whammy pedal (ph) - (playing piano). And then there's silence.

So that's also - before I actually included "Lift Every Voice And Sing," I was thinking about the lyric that James Weldon Johnson wrote - let it resound loud as the rolling sea. And that part built because that's the resounding sound of freedom. That's our people standing up, all people standing up, all Americans who believe in the ideal of what America is meant to represent, standing up. And that's the feeling that I wanted to ignite in anybody who heard me play this version of the song.

So it goes there. (Playing piano) And then there's this stark silence, and the stark silence creates space for me to add some humor to the situation. So I do this - (playing piano). Tickle it. And then - (piano playing). Sun coming out. I know these are not musical influences, but I oftentimes think about music as life and just different examples of life, different ways that I see things - how would that actually sound? So when I say the sun comes out (laughter), that's what it sounds like to me in this context. So - (playing piano).

And then - (playing piano). Now, that's back to the church, Sunday morning - hallelujah. So you see this chord - (playing piano) - anybody who plays in church, in particular the Black church, they know that. That - when you hear that chord, that's how you know something is about to happen - (playing piano). OK, so - I digress.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BATISTE: So it goes (vocalizing, playing piano). Oh. And then, you know, it is about to happen. So I do the build. (Playing piano). And that's, like, a typical kind of left-hand built. List - (playing piano) - Rachmaninoff, Chopin, kind of (playing piano). And then Scott Joplin - Black stride - Willie the Lion Smith, Mary Lou Williams - here we go. (Piano playing). Jelly Roll Morton. (Piano playing).

So that creates the unexpected moment of jubilation, of dance, of community, that joy that I like to create through community, in the arrangements. It's built in. That section can last however long I feel it needs to last. And then when that section is over, I really go to the tag, which is, you know, I make the last part of the melody a tag, so - (playing piano) - again - (playing piano) to insist. And the home of the what? (Playing piano) Of the what? (Playing piano) - the brave (playing piano). And that's how it go.

GROSS: Oh, wow (laughter). That is so great. Thank you so much for that. That is by far the most inclusive version of the national anthem that I have ever heard. You bring so much into that musically and the subtext of all that music, all in one thing. Thank you for walking us through that. It was just fantastic.

BATISTE: Oh, thank you. I mean - (laughter).

GROSS: How often do you play that? Like, what are the occasions when you play that?

BATISTE: Well, I would play it all the time back around 2013. You know, that's when I made the arrangement. But I literally have played it at the protests that we've done, at the voter registration rallies we've done. But I've also played it at concerts throughout the years. And I continue to play it today.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is composer, arranger and pianist and singer Jon Batiste. He has a new album called "We Are." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "SPIRITUAL CONNECTION")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jon Batiste, the music director and bandleader of "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." We recorded this in March, after he won a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for composing music for the Pixar film "Soul." After the interview, he won an Oscar for the score. In addition to composing sections of the score for "Soul," he arranged and performed the jazz on the soundtrack. We talked about writing music for the film.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: This year has been quite a year for you 'cause in addition to the pandemic and the police killings and having - you know, having to work from home for late night, you've also, you know, just won two big awards for the score for "Soul," the animated film "Soul," which is a terrific film. And so I thought I'd switch over to talking a little bit about "Soul." This is a different kind of musical writing for you because you're underscoring an animated film. It's not just composing a song that's expressing your feelings. It has to further - it has to, you know, underscore the storyline. It has to be music that's underneath the action that's happening. I was wondering if you could talk about a scene that you did the underscoring for and, you know, play us and describe the thinking behind what you came up with.

BATISTE: Absolutely. So - wow, there's so much in that film that I could talk about. It was incredible to score the (playing piano) looking-at-life moment, where 22 is looking at life for the first time (laughter).

GROSS: And 22 is a soul who hasn't inhabited a body yet, and she's voiced by Tina Fey. And she's very skeptical about going to Earth and being in a body and having to live life on Earth, so (laughter)...

BATISTE: Absolutely. This - (playing piano) I wanted to take that pentatonic sound, that sound - pentatonic is a five-note scale that feels very pure. It is - (playing piano) - when you go through the cycle of fifths, pentatonic scale (playing piano) is naturally there. It's a basis for a lot of things in all different cultures. Eastern music used the pentatonic. The blues - (playing piano - they used the pentatonic. All of this African music that you hear - (playing piano) - pentatonic. So I wanted to create this sense of universality at the same time as I created a sense of purity, childlike wonder, (vocalizing). So I wanted to create this nursery rhyme-esque bass line. And one, two, three, five, six, seven (playing piano, snapping) six, one, two, three, five. So that feeling of it bouncing around with this melody on the top - (playing piano). So that thing is going on with the saxophone. The bass line is happening.

And then it feels as if she's walking through - or this soul is walking through life and seeing things for the first time and is glazed over with wonder and awe. And it's a feeling of connecting for the first time to life, which if you've seen the story, 22 didn't want to go to Earth for the longest time. And I just wanted to imagine what that would sound like for somebody who is in the sweet embrace of life for the first time ever.

So then there's this moment. Oh, it gives me chills thinking about it. There's this moment where they turn the corner. This stuff is so deep to put into words because it's so much a part of our lives, all of us. All of us have had these feelings, this understanding of seeing something in life and just being blown away by the wonder of it all. So I wanted to find a way to put that into a harmonic progression that matches a moment on screen when they turn the corner, and the sun is going down in the West Village or something that looks like the West Village. And it just is this amazing sequence, this moment that feels so, so impactful to me just because I remember those times when I was just new to New York City, and I was in the Village, and I was going to my first gig in the Village, and the sun was going down and just the wonder of feeling that.

So I wanted to capture that with some harmonies - (playing piano, vocalizing).

GROSS: (Laughter).

BATISTE: So those harmonies - (playing piano) - those harmonies point towards the celestial, those moments in life that are both physical and metaphysical, those moments in life where we feel the connection to the creator, the higher power, yet we're still on Earth. And that feeling of looking at life is really what I think we got.

GROSS: What did you have to learn...

BATISTE: (Playing piano) Oh, that sound. Woo.

(LAUGHTER)

BATISTE: Oh, that sound. Oh, that makes me so emotional when you hear that - (playing piano, vocalizing). Then I took, you know, those kind of, like, Alice Coltrane sort of melodies. Woo, man. There's so much in this - (playing piano). So that - woo - that part gets more complex. It layers. It's like, wow, there's so much that life has to offer. It's melancholy a little bit. But it's also like, wow, this is beautiful. I'll take the good with the bad. I want to be here. I want to be alive. I'm sorry. I'm just...

GROSS: That's the message of the movie.

BATISTE: (Laughter) It's great.

GROSS: That is the message of the movie.

It's time for us to take another break. So let's do that and then we'll talk some more.

GROSS: My guest is Jon Batiste. He is the music director and bandleader on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "NOCTURNE NO. 1 IN D MINOR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with composer, pianist and singer Jon Batiste. His latest album is called "We Are." He's the music director and bandleader on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." And this year, he won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for composing the jazz sections of the score for the animated film "Soul," which is streaming on Disney+.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: The close-credit music for "Soul" is the Curtis Mayfield song "It's All Right," which you sing on the close credits. It's so - it was such a surprise and so wonderful to hear you do that. You're singing in your falsetto for this. And it made me wonder was, like, Curtis Mayfield a big influence on you? Did you listen to him a lot?

BATISTE: Yes. He writes contemporary Black hymns. He writes hymns for humanity. His music is something that I really aspire to both lyrically. And also, the way that he sings - he has that way of singing the falsetto, but he's telling you a story. (Playing piano, singing) It's all right. It's all right.

He's just talking, you know. It's like, I'm just speaking. He can go in and out of speaking, like (playing piano, singing) it's all right. Have a good time 'cause it's all right. Whoa, it's all right.

It's like - it's something that feels like a relative is talking to you, and it makes you comfortable with some of the heavier themes of what he's written about. And that's really been something that impacted me a lot.

GROSS: Was it your choice to use that? I mean, 'cause it actually has the word soul on it - you've got soul, and everybody knows that it's all right. So it not only feels...

BATISTE: (Singing) You've got soul, and everybody knows - yeah - that it's all right. Woo, it's all right.

Oh, my goodness. You heard that? I did that on purpose, but I didn't know if anybody heard that.

GROSS: Would you do a little bit more of that for us - of the song?

BATISTE: Oh, yeah. Yeah (laughter). (Playing piano, singing) It's all right 'cause it's all right. It's all right. Have a good time 'cause it's all right. Whoa, it's all right.

GROSS: It's funny. That song seems to really fit into your aesthetic (laughter).

BATISTE: Yes (laughter). I love this part when they say, (singing) when you wake up early in the morning feeling sad like so many of us do - just the way that - those chords, you hear that? Those minors? (Playing piano) - and the way that the lyric - (singing) feeling sad like so many of us do. But then it's going, (singing) just hum a little soul, make life your goal, and surely something's got to come to you. Say it's all right. Say it's all right. It's all right. Have a good time 'cause it's all right.

And then a part I also love is when he's like, (singing) you've got soul, and everybody knows that it's all right, yeah (laughter).

GROSS: That's really wonderful (laughter).

BATISTE: You know, it feels so good.

GROSS: Thank you. It feels very good for me to hear it. Thank you. Thank you so much for that. Would you end with a hymn or, you know, a spiritual gospel song for us? I know you sometimes do this kind of music at your pop-up performances and street performances, and it would just be a beautiful way to end.

BATISTE: Oh, yeah. (Playing melodica, playing piano, singing) Just a closer walk with thee, grant it, Jesus, is my plea. Daily walking close to thee, oh, let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

GROSS: That was beautiful. Jon Batiste, you're just so wonderful (laughter). Thank you so much for your generosity in playing for us on today's show. And thank you for all of your music and for your work on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" - just so much that you do. It's just been a pleasure to have you on our show.

BATISTE: Oh, thank you for having me. It's always a joy, and I am looking forward to the next time.

GROSS: Oh, I am (laughter). And I'm going to take you up on that.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Thank you so much.

Jon Batiste is music director and bandleader on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." He won an Oscar for composing music for the film "Soul," which is streaming on Disney+. His latest album is called "We Are."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE")

BATISTE: (Singing) We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the golden ones. We are, we are, we are, we are the chosen ones. We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the chosen ones. We are, we are, we are, we are the golden ones. We're never alone, no, no. We're never alone. The country is full of stars. But they're in a war, lying in the dark. Just hoping to medicate, but painfully, it changes fate. Joy, he don't let it go. Oh, no.

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE")

BATISTE: (Singing) We are, we are, we are... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.