Jon Batiste Reflects on the Power of Music

Jon Batiste isn’t just a Grammy, Oscar, and Golden-Globe-winning musician. He’s also been a voice for social change—not to mention the bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

At the 20222 TIME100 Summit on Tuesday in New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, Batiste opened the morning with a powerful rendition of two songs, “Cry” and “Don’t Stop,” alongside a string quartet. His conversation with comedian, producer, writer, and host Amber Ruffin a little later in the morning solidified why Batiste is on the TIME100 list this year—and why he has become such a beloved, and necessary, member of the music and entertainment worlds in the U.S.

Ruffin opened the conversation by asking Batiste why, exactly, it’s been 14 years since a Black artist has won the Album of the Year Grammy, something that Batiste accomplished just this year. “Well, shucks. I think there’s a lot of things that happen that separate cultures, and unfortunately in this country we’ve had a severance of cultural understanding,” Batiste said. “The communities are just now starting to synthesize.” He also commented on the importance of not siloing artists into different genres or categories based on what they look like or where they’re from. “Music is a conduit to express our shared humanity,” he said. He said that creating music has helped him cope with the turmoil of recent years. “Music expresses things that you can’t put into words, so that helps. Sound is a frequency, and the frequency vibrates, and if you connect to that vibration, it can tell you things.”

Ruffin and Batiste also discussed the legacy of Batiste’s hometown of New Orleans on his music, his childhood love for—of all things—coding, and the power of jazz, a subject Batiste delved into with his work on the Oscar-winning animated film Soul.

“It’s so hard to put a finger on, but it’s important that we have that type of art form and culture in the world,” Batiste said about jazz. “Because if we lose that, we lose something very intrinsically important to our existence.”

What does a superstar musician such as Batiste do after his smash year? “You keep creating,” he said.

Batiste isn’t slowing down: he’s set to make his feature film debut in an upcoming remake of Purple is the Color, adapted from Alice Walker’s classic novel, alongside Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, and Colman Domingo.

TIME100 Summit extends the TIME100 List of world’s most influential persons to a live event. The summit brings together leaders of the TIME 100 global community in order to highlight solutions and inspire action towards a better future. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2022 TIME100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, filmmaker Taika Waititi, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwyane Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, ‘me too’ founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Muzaieva is the editor in chief, as well as Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce and TIME), and Marc Benioff (chairman and Salesforce chair).

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