If you’re the kind of gambler who would somehow put money down on Jon Batiste getting the most Grammy nods in 2021, congratulations. The 35-year-old Louisiana native leads the way this year with 11 nominations, including Record of the Year for “Freedom,” Album of the Year for We Are, and recognition in the American roots, R&B, jazz, and soundtrack categories, the latter for his work on Pixar’s Soul.
If you’re unfamiliar with him, by now you’re probably thinking, This Jon Batiste fella must be pretty talented, huh? But if you’re even a casual viewer of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, you already know what’s up — that Batiste is a multifaceted entertainer and, to put it mildly, quite charming. Alongside his backing group, Stay Human, he’s served as the late-night show’s musical director since its debut in 2015, often appearing in segments and accompanying musical guests on top of his normal bandleader duties.
Assuming he wins at least one Grammy in January, Batiste will be halfway to an EGOT after winning the Best Original Score Oscar alongside Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their work on Soul. Given his day job, we figure that the Colbert gig is his best bet to get an Emmy, and with that in mind, we’ve decided to look back on some of Batiste’s best musical moments on The Late Show. So settle in and enjoy some lessons in jazz, comedy bits, and a handful of ridiculous original songs with outfits to match.
“The Zelda Theme” (October 2015)
Fun fact: Growing up in the suburbs of Louisiana, Batiste and his cousins would transcribe the music from their favorite video games, like Street Fighter II and Sonic the Hedgehog. To this day, he’s still an avid gamer with old-school consoles in his Late Show dressing room, which partly explains why he decided to cover the theme from this Nintendo classic in 2015.
“Jon Batiste Teaches You How to Love” (January 2016)
In the first installment of his recurring segment, “Piano 1-0-Fun,” Batiste gave the audience tips on learning his main instrument, such as “If your piano has six strings, that’s a guitar, my friend.” He’d later follow this up with segments on jazz, love, and fashion.
“Jon Batiste Tries to Teach Stephen What Jazz Is” (February 2016)
As part of a larger educational trip through New Orleans, in 2016 Batiste took Colbert to his high school, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, for a lesson in jazz. Helped by one of Batiste’s teachers, Colbert learned the ropes and even tried his hand at the trumpet in this delightful clip.
“Kermit Jams With an Old College Buddy” (February 2016)
Well before his 2021 collaboration with Elmo on Sesame Street, Batiste met up with another Muppet — his old Juilliard roommate Kermit T. Frog.
“Weird Al Faces Off With Jon Batiste” (May 2016)
In this segment, there’s not enough room in the Late Show building for more than one keyboard-aerophone player. Watch as Batiste and Yankovic vie for musical superiority in this tense showdown. (While we’re here pushing for Batiste to EGOT, we’d also like to officially endorse this campaign to induct Weird Al into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)
“Simon Helberg vs. Jon Batiste: Mozart Piano Battle” (August 2016)
Following his duel with Weird Al, Batiste went head to head on the piano with Big Bang Theory actor Simon Helberg, an excellent musician in his own right. You be the judge as to who played Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” better.
“Batman Christmas Carols” (December 2016)
Batiste is not a fan of “Jingle bells, Batman smells” because he sees it as a sad story about the Joker escaping. Ever the problem solver, in 2016 the bandleader decided to take Christmas carols that are in the public domain and rewrite them with a Dark Knight theme. This holiday season, you might find yourself singing “Peace on Earth and Joker’s wild / Robin is some random child” during “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
“Waking Up With Jon Batiste: Jazzify Your Alarm Clock” (May 2017)
Batiste knows alarm clocks are the reason mornings suck, and he’s here to do something about it. To go along with this sketch, the bandleader actually recorded nine tracks that viewers could download and use as their phone alarm tone. Unfortunately, those files are gone now, but you can still laugh at his innocent, terrible attempts to help you wake up in this video.
“Elevator Music With Dua Lipa” (August 2018)
Normally, musicians entertaining you against your will in a confined, moving space — like the subway — is a godforsakenly awful experience. It’s a far, far better time when it’s just a melodica-toting Batiste and Dua Lipa regaling you with “New Rules” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in your office’s elevator.
“The Game of Thrones” (May 2019)
Remember back when people were excited for the Game of Thrones finale? This 2019 clip, which feels a bit quaint now, aired just before the last episode, with Batiste helping to recap the entire series for those who’d forgotten a bunch of the plot twists. The only problem here is that Batiste hadn’t seen a single episode, so he’s just going by all the memes he’s seen. Decked out like Prince, he blended GoT with a number of other pop-culture touchstones: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Frozen, Leprechaun, Blue Man Group, etc. Batiste’s biggest takeaway from the show? “Only white people are allowed to play” the Game of Thrones.
“The Very Thought of You” (August 2019)
One of the fun things The Late Show occasionally asks Batiste to do is perform alongside a musical guest with no time to rehearse. You get a great sense of his talents in this clip, where he accompanied singer Corinne Bailey Rae on a cover of Nat King Cole’s “The Very Thought of You.”
“Jon Batiste Scores Your Chores” (April 2020)
Back in the early days of the pandemic, there was still some humor to be found in being stuck at home. Here, Batiste tackled one of the problems we all faced — the monotony of everyday household tasks — by providing original music to make these chores a bit less boring (or, in the case of homeschooling, harrowing). If you like what you hear, you can still download the full versions of each song, including “Debating Whether to Put on Pants Today.”
“Pandemic Compilation” (Throughout 2020)
Batiste’s bandleader duties include coming up with original songs to use as bumper music for commercial breaks, in part to keep the studio audience entertained while the cameras are off. But during the pandemic, when The Late Show was a looser at-home production, Colbert would prompt Batiste to come up with tunes, both original and covers, on the spot. Sometimes it’d be just a random request like “music for our alien overlords,” and Batiste would always have the right tune for the moment, showing off the virtuosity and warmth that have made him a star. The best was this solo rendition of his own tune, “I’m From Kenner,” that he played after Colbert asked for something “peppy”:
“Kamala” (October 2020)
“Girl you know I love the way you employ your prosecutorial expertise,” says a silky-smooth Batiste in this ode to the then-future vice-president. Had the lyrics not been about Kamala Harris, this R&B track could’ve been a legit hit thanks to its catchy melody and impressive vocals.
“Freedom” (June 2021)
Batiste’s Late Show gig also allows him the space to serve as the musical guest. He’s performed in that capacity several times, so we’ll just highlight this recent performance of his Grammy-nominated track “Freedom,” from his eighth studio album, We Are. You get the full Jon Batiste experience here: the singing; the dancing; the piano playing; and the blend of soul, jazz, and gospel, all with a radiant charm that’s obviously made him such a favorite among fans and Recording Academy voters alike.
“Excuses Song” (September 2021)
Donning boy-band outfits and, in Colbert’s case, a delightfully awful soul patch, Batiste and the host offered up an R&B jam that instructs viewers on how to get out of social engagements now that most things are open for business again. Maybe you fell into a dark well or you’re trying to solve a Magic Eye puzzle even though you’re colorblind! Without spoiling it, the highlight comes when Batiste invites in a special celebrity guest to “break it down” for those of us who enjoyed the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders.