So the Late Show With Stephen Colbert premiered on Tuesday—can we get an amen—and, three episodes in, it's a rousing good time so far.
But we can't give Stephen Colbert all the credit. In fact, a huge tip of the hat goes to Jon Batiste, the multifaceted jazz artist whom the new Late Show host had the good sense to hire as his bandleader and musical director.
In addition to being rather easy on the eyes, his energy is infectious, his smile lights up the studio and we could watch him play the melodica all night! (Yes, that's what that cool piano-flute hybrid he enters the room playing is called.)
We don't know yet whether Colbert plans to use Batiste or members of his band, Stay Human, more in bits and banter, à la Jimmy Fallon and The Roots or Seth Meyers and Late Night bandleader Fred Armisen, but so far we're good with high-kicking intros and many, many close-ups of Batiste.
Perhaps your curiosity about this magnetic entertainer was piqued too? If so, here are eight things to know:
1. What Can't He Play—and What Doesn't He Do?!: In addition to the melodica, the 28-year-old New Yorker by way of New Orleans plays piano, Hammond organ and bass, and he sings. He didn't hone in on jazz as his genre of choice till he was 14, but then he took off running. He self-released his first album at 17, Times in New Orleans; got a master's from the Juilliard School, where he was mentored by Wynton Marsalis; toured with Cassandra Wilson; jammed with Lenny Kravitz and Prince; was on the HBO series Treme; scored the organ music for Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer and is artistic director at large for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Did we mention he's only 28?
2. But He's Always Been on a Fast Track, Sometimes Literally: Batiste gained fame in his adopted hometown of New York for playing sets on the subway, bringing smiles (and probably a fair amount of confusion, but mostly smiles) to hundreds of commuters' faces over the years. Because why not?! People need some light in their lives, especially when they're underground, damn it!
3. He's Basically a Pied Piper: Batiste's mission has been to take his music straight to the people, and where are the people? Outside! (Well, when they're not on the subway.) Batiste has also been known to start playing from a seat in the audience, as he did at Carnegie Hall in 2013, or for leading his band from club to bar to restaurant during a gig.
4. He Has Jazz in His Blood: "Earliest musical memory is probably being scared stiff with my family's band as a youngster on stage playing the conga drums," Batiste recalled to Rolling Stone this summer about going onstage with the Batiste Brothers Band when he was 6 or 7. "Yep... Trial by fire. That was it. You didn't have any real instruction other than, 'Go. Play.' One word instructions. 'Play. Go.'"
Batiste also told the Wall Street Journal recently, "I'm from Kenner, Louisiana, where music is played for every occasion in life. There's music for being born, there's music for dying...It's just natural. Families get really good because they play a lot together."
5. Meet Stay Human: Batiste met drummer Joe Saylor and basisst Phil Kuehler at Juilliard, and after time spent performing as a trio they hooked up with alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash and Ibanda Ruhumbika, who plays tuba. And all together, they play inspired jazz that also draws from soul, funk, hip-hop, rock and Afro-Caribbean beats. They released their first album, Social Music, in 2013. Talking about what they mean by "social music," Batiste told WSJ, "I thought about how I want people to react, how I want people to feel when they see a performance and hear the sounds."
6. Colbert Was a Longtime Fan: Stephen has explained as much, but these two do have a history. Batiste was a guest on The Colbert Report in July 2014 (yes, they ultimately took it outside) and he was one of the dozens of famous faces in the mix on the show's finale in December. You're forgiven if you were distracted by George Lucas.
7. Colbert Is His Spirit Animal: Batiste explained to Rolling Stone this summer that he wouldn't have taken such a mainstream day job if he didn't know that their styles (creative, boundary-pushing, outside the box) meshed. "The team there, we have a very similar philosophy and vision about the way they do jokes and the way we do music," he said. "In another scenario I wouldn't even take a day gig like that because I think it would be too restrictive." Moreover, Colbert "believes in exposing people to different assets of American music," Batiste added. "And as I was saying, the idea of de-categorizing of American music... that concept resonates with him and that's why he likes what we do, you know?"
"I'm a lucky man," Colbert told the WSJ.
P.S. It does sound as though we'll be hearing more from Batiste, and not just musically. "I've been working on my comedy," he revealed to the paper as well. "I'm talking to Stephen about improv, talking to Jason Sudeikis, trying to get as much coaching as possible."
8. He Does a Bang-Up Job Covering Miley: Jazzy rendition of "Wrecking Ball," anyone?