From New Orleans to Ojai: Jon Batiste at Thacher

Guest artist, Jon Batiste, of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,  gave the Thacher Jazz Band members the experience of a lifetime when they performed solos to his background accompaniment.
By Isabel ’19 and Trevor ’19

Last weekend, Thacher redefined what it means to have a Friday night Head’s Invite when the prolific musician, composer, and TV personality, Jon Batiste, performed in the Milligan Center. Batiste, best known as bandleader and musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he performs with his band, Stay Human, entertained Thacher with his piano expertise and soulful interpretations of iconic piano songs like Chopsticks. He followed his solo performance by performing a duet with John Geyer ’20. The two wowed the audience with a mostly improvisational piece for two keyboards--piano and melodica--that they composed before the concert. After the improvisations, Batiste welcomed Thacher’s Jazz Band to play along with him, creating an absolutely unforgettable performance. He helped every student in the Jazz Band come up with their own solos to a progression he played. Each student had a chance to shine with Batiste, but one of the highlights of the night came when Julien ’19 had what can only be described as a music battle between Julien’s sax and Batiste’s melodica.  

The Milligan Center was raucous with applause for the entire Head’s Invite. But, when Batiste invited members of the audience to grab an instrument and join him, the energy in the hall heightened and everyone jumped to their feet to participate. As if that was not enough, Batiste then urged the audience of over 300 people outdoors onto the Pergola, creating a circle of clapping students and faculty. The Jazz Band continued their improvisations and some people in the audience were even prompted to get in the circle and dance. After the performance, students commented excitedly: “That was the best Head’s Invite I’ve ever seen.”

In our interview before the performance, Batiste mirrored his playful and brilliant stage aura. He described his journey from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) to Julliard, to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. As a child, Batiste was quiet and introverted but found his voice when he started playing the piano as an 11-year-old. Although he loved music, performing was a challenge, because his personality seemed to conflict with it. As Batiste put it, “being an introvert and getting on stage are at odds with each other.” Batiste said that even today he still gets a bit nervous before going on stage. That being said, if he was at all nervous during his Thacher performance, he masked it incredibly well.

Professionally, Batiste is the musical accompaniment to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. On The Late Show, Batiste employs his masterful improvisational skills in accordance with Colbert’s monologues, creating memorable moments through music and comedy. He has also had the opportunity to perform with a variety of musical guests including Taylor Swift, Nas, and Yo-Yo Ma. Although he’s been on The Late Show for five years, Batiste’s favorite memory is still his first time performing in the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. “When you’re on stage and you look around at all the cameras and you see all the people… there’s no feeling like that,” Batiste described, reminiscing about his time on the show.

Jon Batiste’s inspirational musical skills and refreshing stage presence transformed Thacher for a night. Students arrived expecting a traditional piano performance and instead found themselves in an immersive musical event. Everyone walked away with a renewed feeling of happiness that could be seen throughout the entire school. Watching him encourage Thacher’s musicians to play daunting solos with confidence, solos they otherwise never would have played in front of all of Thacher, is a testament to the power of Batiste’s exhilarating effect. In our interview, when asked what advice he would give his high school self, Batiste said: “Don’t worry; worrying makes you feel like you're doing something, but you’re not accomplishing anything.” After watching Batiste and the Thacher Jazz band perform on stage, it is clear that these are words to live by.
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