A Very Jon Batiste Christmas The bandleader for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert has released a new album of "funkified" holiday classics. "I love remixing things and making them fit in a different context," he says.
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A Very Jon Batiste Christmas

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A Very Jon Batiste Christmas

A Very Jon Batiste Christmas

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When Stephen Colbert replaced David Letterman as host of "The Late Show" last year, everybody wanted to know who his band director would be.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: Well, I like this guy.

JON BATISTE: Hi. I'm Jon Batiste.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BATISTE: Yeah.

GREENE: Yes, that is Jon Batiste. And there was a little harmonica-sounding instrument you were hearing there. It is his melodica - kind of looks like a harmonica and keyboard stuck together, and he's got it with him pretty much all the time.

BATISTE: Oh, yeah, yeah, I have it here. I always have it.

(LAUGHTER)

BATISTE: It's kind of like my murse, a man purse.

(LAUGHTER)

BATISTE: (Playing melodica).

GREENE: That's awesome.

BATISTE: You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE SONG ,"WINTER WONDERLAND")

GREENE: So Jon Batiste has this "Late Show" gig. He's also an artistic director at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and now he has his very own holiday album. It's called "Christmas With Jon Batiste."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINTER WONDERLAND")

BATISTE: (Singing) A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland.

GREENE: There's so many Christmas albums - Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Elvis. Is there a lot of pressure there to do something different?

BATISTE: There's always going to be an expectation to do it differently than any version that you've heard in the past. And for me, that's always been a joy. I love remixing things and making them fit into a different context than what you imagined that they could fit into, like taking "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" and putting it in the context of Rosetta Tharpe Church with a bluegrass banjo and a soul singer like Judith Hill singing on the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMAN")

JUDITH HILL: (Singing) From God, our heavenly father, a blessed angel came and unto certain shepherds...

BATISTE: I oftentimes choose songs just like that, like songs that you would not imagine could be funkified (ph) or taken into a new sphere and do exactly that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMAN")

HILL: (Singing) With tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh, tidings...

GREENE: You took "What Child Is This" into a sphere that involves an organ and a wailing electric guitar.

BATISTE: (Laughter) Well, there's also the element of imagery. When you're listening to music, a lot of people see images or see colors, and I always love to try to create songs that evoke imagery. And to me - think about "What Child Is This" and what that song is talking about and then listen to the wailing guitar playing that melody and the way that the organ is kind of moaning underneath it.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE SONG, "WHAT CHILD IS THIS")

GREENE: Jon Batiste comes from a legendary jazz family in Louisiana, and he was just 8 years old when he played his first show with The Batiste Brothers Band.

BATISTE: It wasn't as if we were pressured to be musicians. It's just kind of a part of the culture, so much so that when you're born in New Orleans, you're either going to get a trumpet or a piano or a drum.

(LAUGHTER)

BATISTE: And that's just - that's it. That's how it works, and you may continue.

GREENE: I read that the conga drums were what you were given for one of your earliest performances. What was that like?

BATISTE: (Laughter) We had performances where there would literally be 30 family members on stage at one time.

GREENE: Wow.

BATISTE: And when you have that many people on stage - and I'm the youngest at the time - it's very easy to hand the youngster a drum to create rhythm from because, at that point, I may not know how to play any of the other instruments, but, more importantly, all the other instruments are taken. So give him the conga drum.

GREENE: (Laughter) Youngest kid gets whatever's left.

BATISTE: Exactly. And that's kind of how I switched to piano.

GREENE: Can I play a little bit of "Silent Night" from your album?

BATISTE: Oh, yeah, man. I love that cut.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE SONG, "SILENT NIGHT")

GREENE: That is so beautiful. I mean, it - I get this feeling that you were born knowing how to play like that.

BATISTE: (Laughter) Oh, man, thank you so much. I'm just - you know, I'm blessed to be able to have a feeling for music and understand what I want to convey with music and have the ability to strive after it each day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILENT NIGHT")

BATISTE: (Singing) Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

GREENE: I know your family - deeply religious. Is there something special about doing a Christmas album? I mean, you listen to a song like "Silent Night" and is there a religious, spiritual feeling to it for you?

BATISTE: Well, those songs to me are sacred because they're basically in line with my faith and everything that I believe in. So I think there is a sense of gravitas and weight to it that I need to address. But it's not necessarily more special than anything else that I play. It's just I approach it with a different mindset.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE SONG, "SILENT NIGHT")

GREENE: It's been a real pleasure talking to you. He's the bandleader for "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." His new album is called "Christmas With John Batiste." And, Jon, I just - you got your melodica there. Is there one of the songs from the new album that you could play for us on your instrument as we say goodbye?

BATISTE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll play another version of this one I know everybody know (playing melodica).

GREENE: Lovely. Jon, thank you and have a wonderful holiday.

BATISTE: Yes, indeed, you too, man. Have a good one.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE SONG, "O TANNENBAUM")

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