The Fort Worth Press - Jon Batiste: jazz master turned Grammys royalty

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Jon Batiste: jazz master turned Grammys royalty
Jon Batiste: jazz master turned Grammys royalty

Jon Batiste: jazz master turned Grammys royalty

An artist's artist with elastic creative dexterity and high-octane charisma, the already world-class jazzman Jon Batiste has emerged as an unexpected Grammys golden boy.

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This year's shortlists for music's top awards featured a number of bona fide pop megastars including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish and overnight sensation Olivia Rodrigo -- all of whom won fewer prizes than expected or were shut out completely.

Instead it was Batiste who cleaned up at Sunday's gala in Las Vegas with five trophies, the most of the night.

While he wasn't exactly a household name outside music circles before, he definitely will be now, having scored the prestigious Album of the Year for his record "We Are."

Wearing a glittering cape after delivering a foot-stomping performance that began at the piano and ended as a colorful dance number, Batiste's jaw dropped when Lenny Kravitz declared him the night's big winner.

"I believe this to my core: there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor," he said onstage in accepting the award.

"The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It's like a song or an album is made, and it almost has a radar to find the person when they need it the most."

- 'Spiritual practice' -

The musical talent and artistic vision of Batiste, the scion of a prominent New Orleans musical dynasty, have made him an industry mainstay for years, with a prodigious body of work and an eye towards social justice.

He'd also already been a red carpet mainstay, routinely hamming for photographers and flashing his megawatt smile.

Batiste has recorded with legendary artists from Stevie Wonder to Prince to Willie Nelson, and is perhaps best known to the wider American public as the bandleader and musical director of Stephen Colbert's popular late night comedy show.

The piano virtuoso is also the creative director of Harlem's National Jazz Museum, and last year took home an Oscar, Golden Globe and a BAFTA for co-composing the soundtrack of Pixar's animated hit "Soul" with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Batiste entered Sunday with 11 Grammy nominations, the most of any artist, spanning the top categories but also a variety of genres and mediums, including R&B, jazz, American roots and contemporary classical.

He ultimately won for best American roots performance, best American roots song, best music video and then tied with Carlos Rafael Rivera for best score soundtrack for visual media, in addition to the best album recognition.

Prior to Sunday, he'd been nominated three times, but had yet to win.

But after honoring his fellow nominees, Batiste told journalists backstage: "I really don't do it for the awards."

Speaking onstage minutes earlier, he said of his craft: "It's more than entertainment for me. It's a spiritual practice."

- 'Be present' -

Born on November 11, 1986 in Louisiana, Batiste began playing drums and other percussion instruments as a child with his family, which includes a long line of gospel and jazz artists.

He switched to the piano as a pre-teen, releasing his debut album "Times in New Orleans" at age 17.

A classmate of Trombone Shorty, Batiste graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in 2004, going on to attend New York's prestigious Juilliard school, where he completed both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music.

He became a mainstay of the jazz community, releasing a number of recording projects and performing across the globe.

He and his band Stay Human secured the high-profile "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" gig starting in 2015, bringing his music to millions of eyes each weeknight.

In recent years, Batiste has emerged as a voice of social justice, notably taking part in June 2020's Juneteenth celebration in Brooklyn as protests raged over the police murder of a Black man, George Floyd.

In March 2021, he released "We Are," his now Grammy-winning eighth studio album, which he has said he put together largely prior to the mass protests as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, but whose content offered prescient messages of hope and community.

A genre-spanning effort that fuses jazz with soul, hip-hop, pop and R&B, Batiste has called the record "a culmination of my life to this point."

Batiste also recently divulged that he had quietly married his longtime partner Suleika Jaouad -- bestelling author of the best-selling memoir "Between Two Kingdoms" -- after she was diagnosed with leukemia for a second time.

Asked backstage how he was squaring their personal struggles with his huge career wins, Batiste said: "What's going on back home, and what's happening today are both in their proper place for me."

"Life has ups and downs -- and sometimes the ups and the downs occur at the same time. And when you have that happening, it really lets you know, by shaking your consciousness and saying, 'Be present. Be here.'"