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Jon Batiste Talks New Album 'We Are,' His Brain-Breaking Itinerary & Achieving "Freedom" From Genre

Jon Batiste

Photo courtesy of Verve

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Jon Batiste Talks New Album 'We Are,' His Brain-Breaking Itinerary & Achieving "Freedom" From Genre

Stay Human bandleader and Stephen Colbert foil Jon Batiste is a respected pillar of the jazz community. But as his new album 'WE ARE' and his litany of other projects attests, he's something much more significant: A fully-formed American artist

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2021 - 11:05 pm

What has Jon Batiste been up to since his last album, 2018's Hollywood Africans? That's like asking an entire town, "What have you been up to for three years?"

For Batiste, even summing up three days is rather impossible. In that timespan, he's had an incalculable number of irons in the fire—his symphonic premiere at Carnegie Hall, leading his band Stay Human on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," a collaborative song with Diane Warren, and scores of other things. Still, he's found a 15-minute window for a Zoom call. Therein, the 34-year-old dynamo lovingly deems his life "a madhouse."

"It's hard to even encapsulate in one presentation of a thought," the three-time GRAMMY nominee admits to GRAMMY.com. "I'm also in the process of, while doing these things, developing other things."

This Möbius strip of a life—projects and projects and projects, blurring on a continuum—speaks to Batiste's boundless drive and work ethic. In a pandemic year, when so many lost motivation and momentum, he sped up. Not only that, he's showing the uncategorizable nature of his artistry. 

Just as he can't be summed up as a bandleader, music consultant or TV personality, on his new album WE ARE, which was released March 29, Batiste combines half a dozen styles in fresh, unhackneyed ways.

"I don't even think genre exists," he declares later in the interview. "Self-curation and the free exchange of information and content creates a lack of genre adherence. That kind of diversity and access changes listening habits and changes the way people perceive music."

This paradigm, he says, exposes and deconstructs notions of genre, which, Batiste asserts, stems from race-centric marketing prevalent in the early music business. Read on as he holds forth on that subject, his Oscar-winning work on the 2020 Pixar flick Soul and what he has in store as live performances return.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What's been going on in your life since Hollywood Africans, up to and including the daily grind of TV and working on Soul?

I'm involved in so many different types of things that so much of my life is balancing the amount of things I have going on and maintaining artistic integrity and keeping my values intact. It's hard to even encapsulate in one presentation of a thought.

Looking at my day-to-day: I just finished working on a score last night. The day before, when I was working on that score, I did a symphonic composition for an NBA Playoffs ad, which is their official ad that's out now. We did that in a matter of three days and recorded an entire symphony orchestra. Then, before that, I was working on a song in collaboration with Diane Warren. Today, I was hosting "CBS This Morning," and I wasn't even playing music. I was the host [with] Gayle King.

Today, I'm doing "The Late Show." And then tonight, after that, I'm going to work on some things for a foundation I'm part of. This is just in the last three days, which is a microcosm of the type of madhouse that my life is and the variety and range of different things I'm part of, that I care about deeply.

This is [about] focusing on a few things that are offered to me that I care about the most in a moment. That's maybe five out of 500 opportunities to do things or be part of things. It really becomes a question of what matters most to me and what I want to put on everybody's plate at this time, and how much time I have to do it.

I'm also in the process of, while doing these things, developing other things. Developing shows and developing a symphony that I'm premiering at Carnegie Hall in May of next year that's called American Symphony. It will be my largest work to date. It's a 40-minute, four-movement symphony, and it has not only the orchestra, but a choir and marching band and guest musicians. It's a very expansive work.

I've got to mention Soul, because I really got the impression that It wasn't a writer's room guessing what that world is like. It seemed like jazz musicians were deeply involved with the film.

Oh, absolutely. You've got one of the greatest living jazz musicians being a consultant on the film—Herbie Hancock—a consultation that was from the beginning of the film. And you have Terri Lyne Carrington, one of the greatest musicians living, who also consulted on the film. I consulted on the film as well as working on the score with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

You have real jazz musicians at the helm of this thing. Roy Haynes played the drums with me on the score. I put together another multigenerational band there with real jazz musicians. Roy Haynes and Harvey Mason, Sr. on the drums, and Marcus Gilmore as well, who is Roy's grandson. Then, you have Linda Oh and Tia Fuller on the bass and saxophone, respectively.

I think it's really amazing when they have these opportunities—for whatever it is—to have a big studio use their megaphone to speak to something that is more countercultural and less mainstream. This is a great example of the power of a big studio—one of the biggest studios in the world, Disney-Pixar—to use their megaphone and speak to something. It can have a lasting impact.

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That was a big win for the jazz community. 

Yeah. Anyone who says otherwise, I think, missed the big picture. I think it's hard to look at that and not see it as a win for jazz and for culture. In particular, when I'm thinking about culture, I'm thinking about the ways that American identity and Black culture have been at odds in cinema. This movie was allowed to come through the cracks of a very marginalized history, when it comes to jazz in film.

As a journalist, I have to reckon with the word "jazz" and the periodic need to obliterate it. WE ARE has many of those elements, but when I listen to it, the word never crosses my mind. Do you even consider genre when you write?

I don't even think genre exists. I think it's a construct. The construct of genre was really created in order to help sell and organize music and to train the public to think about music in that way, in order to market it easier. 

I think that's what it was from the beginning, and then, even earlier than our modern era of genre organization, what it was was all those things and race, which created these different forms of segregation. Segregated radio stations even had colored records versus non-colored records, and all kinds of crazy shenanigans. People would have songs that were done, and there would be a white version and a Black version. As you know, the history of all the stuff we've dealt with.

Then, you'd have R&B records and rock 'n' roll, and that became a way of segregating music. You have Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and then you have Elvis and the Stones, and all these different blues musicians. Blues and R&B were really the origin of what had become known as rock 'n' roll, but because it was Black people doing it, they didn't want to call it rock 'n' roll.

It's very interesting to see the evolution of that. That's a whole other story. But it's always been a construct. We've just always accepted it. And I think the more that we look at the way things have unfolded with streaming in the early 2000s, we see how the genie popped out of the bottle when people started to pirate, stream and download music and curate it for themselves, even though that's not even what it was called back then. 

Self-curation and the free exchange of information and content creates a lack of genre adherence. That kind of diversity and access changes listening habits and changes the way people perceive music. It changes the taste of what they want from artists. We're just [now] starting to see the impact of that as the generation who grew up with streaming.

You know, my generation was the last generation in that when we were 11 and 12 years old, we didn't have it. By the time we were 13 and 14, it was taken over. It's the generation after us that grew up where that was the only thing they had. That's how they understood music consumption. There are pros and cons to it all, but it definitely was part of what is more and more exposed about genre, which is rooted in marketing and race.

When you crash together hip-hop, jazz, blues, R&B and soul, it exposes that they're all made of the same DNA.

What's totally interesting is that the more time that the construct of genre has persisted, it's created different approaches to these genres that are identifiable. You have artists that have created music to fit into a system that is a construct. And even with that being the case, the music is still not able to be separated.

I'll give you the perfect example. If you listen to what's known as smooth jazz and then listen to something from the '70s, like Grover Washington or Stanley Turrentine or post-bop music like Horace Silver or Bobby Timmons or something like that, the only thing that separates that music—besides the actual musicians—stylistically is the production concept.

Some beats, where you hear something Art Blakey might play, that could be a hip-hop beat if it was an 808 or it was sampled. It could be jazz—vice versa—if it was played on two-inch tape and recorded at Van Gelder Studios. A lot of stuff that separates genre now is largely sonic production approaches. 

I feel like that's the new innovation in music. I see a lot of people trying to break genres in how they blend sonic and production approaches.

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GRAMMY Jazz Band Plays Duke Ellington, Count Basie & More | 2018 GRAMMY Week

Baritone saxophonist Veronica Leahy

Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

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GRAMMY Jazz Band Plays Duke Ellington, Count Basie & More | 2018 GRAMMY Week

The GRAMMY In The Schools Live! program showcased the formidable chops of this year's GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session band and celebrated music education in the Big Apple

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2018 - 11:46 am

After spending the first few days of GRAMMY Week getting acquainted, rehearsing and plotting their schedule, the members of GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session finally got to let the music do the talking at the GRAMMY In The Schools Live! concert in New York City on Jan. 25.

Taking place at The New School's John L. Tishman Auditorium, the GRAMMY Museum event proved to not only showcase this year's class of Jazz Session students and the many alumni of the program who were in attendance, but it also spotlighted the year-round initiatives of the Museum, which include a range of programs for youth musicians and music education.

The event also acknowledged the Recording Academy and GRAMMY Museum's 2018 Music Educator Award recipient Melissa Salguero, a music teacher at P.S. 48 in the South Bronx.

"This is one of the most epic moments of my life. My dream was to teach in a city that loved and cherished music," said Salguero. "To be honored in New York City as a New York teacher, this has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life."

But on this January evening, the spotlight shone brightly on the 18 young musicians in the Jazz Session band — comprising five saxophones, five trumpets, four trombones, bass, drums, guitar, and piano.

With direction from conductor Justin DiCioccio, the band performed a taught set list showcasing, in DiCioccio's words, the "different styles and moods of jazz." Out of the gate, the band swung through Neal Hefti's "Whirly Bird" with a brisk fervor, highlighted by the sax chairs trading solos.

They segued into "Cabeza De Carne," a Latin clave-based tune that put some pep in the audience's collective step, and Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty," which seemed to bottle the sounds one might hear at 2 a.m. at a late-night NYC jazz club.

"We've had one rehearsal, by the way," quipped DiCioccio in between songs.

Following a take on Randy Brecker's "Sponge," which featured cool riffing and angular walking bass lines courtesy of guitarist Jordan Reifkind and bassist Augustus "Gus" Allen, respectively, the Jazz Session members kicked into high gear.

The ensemble performed a spirited take of Buddy Rich's "West Side Story Suite." The multi-layered composition was chosen in honor of the centennials of composer Leonard Bernstein and famed drummer Rich. Appropriately, the sprawling tune was sparked by brassy punctuations and impressive stick work by drummer Varun Das.

Next, the musicians' showcased depth and range that belied their experience on "Red Hair, No Freckles," a complex piece composed by GRAMMY Museum Executive Education Director David Sears, who offered, "If we play it right, your body should move." Judging by the audience reaction, they indeed got it right. The collective navigated the multiple odd time signatures in the piece with aplomb while interpreting the tune's R&B, funk and progressive pop flavors that ably mixed elements of Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown and Chicago.

For a special encore, the Jazz Session band was joined by one of their own, alumni Jon Batiste. The gregarious pianist/bandleader for "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" — who came straight from a show taping to play with the students — sat in for a performance of Duke Ellington's "Kiki" and Count Basie's "Splanky."

In the presence of the senior musician, the band upped their game and matched Batiste's fire, measure by measure. For his part, the smiling Batiste dazzled the ivories, with his playing light as a feather and forceful at the appropriate moments and improvised solos that were ripe with articulate calls and responses, motifs and linear flourishes. Jazz Session pianist Esteban Castro, who stepped aside for the final two songs, smiled for the duration as he witnessed the masterclass.

As for the Jazz Session members, the experience and education they amass during their GRAMMY Week crash course will certainly bode well for their future careers. And the time they are spending together in the Big Apple constitutes a form of networking, which one alumnus described as an integral part of the GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session experience.

"[I advise them to] keep in touch with each other," said David Grossman, a pianist/bassist who was a Jazz Session band member in the mid-'90s. "They might know this but their fellow bandmates, hopefully, they'll know [each other] for a long, long time."

"These are some of the finest young jazz players in the country and we are giving them a very unique lens of what it means to work in music," said Scott Goldman, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum. "The kind of challenges that they will face as a working musician, the kind of discipline that is required by a working musician — this is an experience that I don't think you are going to get in any conservatory setting."


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Kesha, Ed Sheeran, SZA & More To Honor Elton John In GRAMMY Salute

Elton John

Photo: Kevin Winger/Getty Images

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Kesha, Ed Sheeran, SZA & More To Honor Elton John In GRAMMY Salute

Tune in to CBS on April 10 to catch "Elton John: I'm Still Standing — A GRAMMY Salute" featuring an all-star tribute plus special performance of a medley of hits from John himself

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2018 - 06:00 pm

How do you celebrate a career as illustrious as that of the great Elton John? With a star-studded concert, of course. "Elton John: I'm Still Standing — A GRAMMY Salute" will air April 10 on CBS and features performances by some of music's biggest names, including Alessia Cara, Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Lady Gaga, Miranda Lambert, John Legend, Little Big Town, Chris Martin, Shawn Mendes, Maren Morris, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and SZA.

Musicians from multiple genres will perform classic songs from John's impressive catalog with longtime co-writer Bernie Taupin. Additionally, there will be special appearances by Jon Batiste, Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Jackson, Anna Kendrick, Gayle King, Lucy Liu, Valerie Simpson, and Hailee Steinfeld.

The festivities will culminate with a medley of hits performed by John himself, culminating with the event's title song, "I'm Still Standing" from John's 1983 album, Too Low For Zero.

Here is the full list of performances:

"The Bitch Is Back" — Miley Cyrus
"Candle In The Wind" — Ed Sheeran
"Daniel" — Sam Smith
"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" — Alessia Cara
"Your Song" — Lady Gaga
"Rocket Man" — Little Big Town
"Border Song" — Christopher Jackson & Valerie Simpson
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" — SZA & Shawn Mendes
"Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters" — Maren Morris
"We All Fall In Love Sometimes" — Chris Martin
"My Father's Gun" — Miranda Lambert
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" — Kesha
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" — John Legend
"Bennie And The Jets" — Elton John
"Philadelphia Freedom" — Elton John
"I'm Still Standing" — Elton John & Ensemble

"Elton John: I'm Still Standing–A GRAMMY Salute," continues the tradition of previous Emmy-winning TV specials presented by CBS, the Recording Academy, and AEG Ehrlich Ventures, including "Sinatra 100 — An All-Star GRAMMY Concert," "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life — An All-Star GRAMMY Salute," "The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute" and "Stayin' Alive: A GRAMMY Salute To The Music Of The Bee Gees."

Tune in April 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT for this two-hour concert special, only on CBS.

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Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations This Year? The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show Nominees By The Numbers

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Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations This Year? The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show Nominees By The Numbers

Olivia Rodrigo vies to be in Billie Eilish's company, JAY-Z makes GRAMMY history, and more takeaways from the 2022 GRAMMYs nominations

GRAMMYs/Nov 24, 2021 - 03:18 am

Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.*

The 2022 GRAMMY nominations have officially arrived!

This year's show has a relatively large number of nominees, as two new categories were added (Best Global Music Performance in the Global Music Field and Best Música Urbana Album in the Latin Music Field), bringing the total number of GRAMMY Award categories to 86.

And with the Big Four categories each expanding to 10 nominees (from last year's eight), the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show — which airs on CBS on Monday, April 3 — is sure to be an especially exciting night.

Now that you've had a chance to see if your favorite artists were nominated, take a deeper look at some of the year's biggest milestones.

This Year's Most-Nominated Artists Come Out Strong

Jon Batiste is the most-nominated artist this GRAMMY season, earning a whopping 11 nominations. Even more impressive, his nods span seven Fields: General Field, R&B, Jazz, American Roots Music, Music For Visual Media, Classical, and Music Video/Film.

Justin Bieber, Doja Cat and H.E.R. are tied for second-most nominated, with eight each. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo — who are addressed more below — tie for third-most nominated, each earning seven nominations.

Notably, all of this year's leading nominees are nominated in two or more General Field Categories (Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, and Best New Artist) with all receiving nominations in the Album Of The Year Category. Doja Cat actually scored two AOTY noms this year: one for her own LP, Planet Her, and one for her contribution to Lil Nas X's Montero ("Scoop," which she co-wrote with the rapper).

Beliebers have more to celebrate, too: Not only is this the first time Bieber has notched a Best R&B Performance nod, but it's also the superstar's first time securing nominations in three of the four General Field categories in a single year.

Billie Eilish & Olivia Rodrigo Could Be in the Same Company

Rodrigo caps a mind-blowing breakout year with nominations in all four General Field Categories, becoming the 13th artist to be nominated in all four in a single year.

If Rodrigo wins all four, she will be the third person and second woman to do so. She'd tie with Billie Eilish as the youngest to do so, as Eilish had just celebrated her 18th birthday a month prior to the 2020 GRAMMYs, where she swept the Big Four categories. (Rodrigo, now 18, will turn 19 three weeks after the 2022 ceremony.)

Eilish strikes again in the General Field categories, earning Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for the third consecutive year. She's also 2-for-2 on Album Of The Year nominations, as her second LP, Happier Than Ever, scored an AOTY nod.

The album's title track is up for Record Of The Year, and if Eilish wins, it will be her third ROTY award in a row. The singer won Record Of The Year at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards for "Bad Guy" and at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards for "Everything I Wanted."

Read More: The 64th GRAMMY Awards: Everything You Need To Know About The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show & Nominations

JAY-Z Reaches a GRAMMY Milestone

JAY-Z adds three more nominations this year, bringing his career total to 83. With that, the rapper and mogul is now the sole individual with the most GRAMMY nominations of all time.

This officially makes JAY-Z and wife Beyoncé the most-nominated couple in GRAMMY history, as Bey is the most nominated female artist with 79. (Beyonce grabbed four more trophies last year, making her the female artist with the most wins at 28. JAY-Z is currently at 23 GRAMMY wins.)

Paul McCartney follows JAY-Z as the second-most-nominated artist of all time, adding two more this year to bring his career total to 81.

Tony Bennett's Final Run Is Rewarded

Tony Bennett first received GRAMMY nominations in 1962 at the 5th (yes, 5th!) GRAMMY Awards, where his classic "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" won for Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male.

Nearly 60 years later, the 95-year-old icon is celebrating five more nominations thanks to his latest collaborative album with Lady Gaga, Love For Sale, which has been announced as his final album as he is battling Alzheimer's disease.

The pair are nominated for Album Of The Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, along with Record Of The Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video for "I Get a Kick Out of You."

If he wins any of those five awards, Bennett will be the second-oldest GRAMMY winner ever, following blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, who at age 97 won the GRAMMY for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards in 2011.

Stay tuned to GRAMMY.com and our social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) for more 2022 GRAMMYs content, and tune in to the 64th GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, April 3, on CBS to find out who the winners will be!

2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show: Complete Nominations List

Watch Olivia Rodrigo, Jazmine Sullivan, Doja Cat & More GRAMMY Winners Pose With Their Golden Gramophones In The Backstage Portrait Cam
Olivia Rodrigo

Photo: Francis Specker/CBS via Getty Images

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Watch Olivia Rodrigo, Jazmine Sullivan, Doja Cat & More GRAMMY Winners Pose With Their Golden Gramophones In The Backstage Portrait Cam

Just after 2022 GRAMMY winners were awarded their golden gramophones, they headed backstage to our GRAMMY Portrait Cam. Check out exclusive footage of Lady Gaga, Jon Batiste and others posing with their new trophies backstage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2022 - 03:57 pm

What better way to celebrate a GRAMMY win than to show it off on camera? That’s exactly what the likes of Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, SZA and Jazmine Sullivan did at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Several winners stopped by the backstage Portrait Cam to pose with their golden gramophones, including Album Of The Year winner Jon Batiste (who posed with all five of his new trophies!) and now 13-time winner Lady Gaga. GRAMMY.com has exclusive footage of those behind-the-scenes photo shoots.

Keep an eye on the Recording Academy’s official Instagram page for the final portraits, and watch the GRAMMY Portrait Cam in action below.