Jon Batiste Talks Red Beans & Rice, New Orleans, and the Oscar-Winning 'Soul' on Biscuits & Jam
About Biscuits & Jam: In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.
Episode 4: April 20, 2021
Music is literally in Jon Batiste's DNA: Members of his family have performed in both the Treme and Olympia Brass Bands in New Orleans, and by the time he was 20, Jon's piano talents had him touring Spain, Paris, and South Africa. Jon has been the bandleader for CBS' Late Show with Stephen Colbert since 2015, and his vast musical knowledge and versatile flair has allowed him to perform with everyone from Prince to Willie Nelson. Still, this past year has been Jon's busiest yet–with both a new album titled We Are, and his Golden Globe-winning score for the Disney-Pixar film Soul. Songs like this one, "Born To Play," drive the main character's sense of purpose as he attempts to find his way back to earth from the afterlife.
On Growing Up in Kenner, Louisiana
"There's old Kenner and there's new Kenner–and I grew up between both. When we say old Kenner, we mean the part of Kenner that is by the railroad tracks, Bunch Village, is pretty much as rural as you could get in a city environment. And you have a few schools, a lot of great churches, strong Catholic tradition, and lovely little ravines and canals. Then you go to New Kenner, and that's a little bit more of a suburb. And when I was a teenager, we moved there and I had a great time just playing basketball. But then the suburban lifestyle was broken up by going to New Orleans and playing with some of the greatest musicians of all time. So just kind of the balancing of those poles of existence was quite healthy for me....Having a place like Kenner to go back to, felt like a warm hug after these experiences in New Orleans that I would have as a kid, where I would just be so excited and have so many ideas about music that were forming. I really do love my upbringing and I'm very happy that I had this blessed fortune to be born there."
On His Mother's Famous Recipe
"My mother's red beans and rice recipe is legendary. So many folks came over to her house in Kenner for the red beans and rice on Monday nights. I even showed that recipe to a few friends of mine and one of my friends, Nathaniel Rateliff, decided that he wanted to put it in a cookbook that he just put out."
On His Faith
"The church and my faith, in general, is behind all the music that I make, and I think that is something that people feel. And it's a good thing. No matter what you believe, to connect your creativity and connect your purpose to something bigger than yourself, to something that's bigger than what is good for only you and yours. My faith was instilled in me from an early age and staying close with God and staying close with him through my work is something that's always been a priority."
On the Oscar-Nominated Movie Soul
"We really wanted to make the music a character in the film, and when you watch the film, the music should feel like a familiar presence, not just a backdrop… It's a blessing to really have been a part of such an amazing collaboration. I mean, it was really two years of creative bliss… And I'm glad that the movie has resonated with so many people. After 2020, a lot of folks were feeling all sorts of ways being isolated and everything else that was going on in the world."
On What He's Searching for in the Days Ahead
"Every day, I'm just trying to walk the path the way that the spirit leads me. My faith is really the thing that helps me to stay grounded and take one day at a time. And when you do that, everything falls into place the way it needs to. As long as you are connected to the source. And for me, that's God through my faith as a Christian, it's connected to that source. I think everybody—when they're walking right and they're doing the right thing in their life, they feel connected to that source. And that's what I'm always seeking to do in terms of my daily walk."
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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