In the fight for weeknight TV viewers, Stephen Colbert, the new host of The Late Show, has a powerful weapon: Jon Batiste, the spunky jazz pianist Colbert picked to be his bandleader. "People kept telling me I'd be a good fit after Stephen had confidentially offered me the gig," says the 28-year-old, whose band, Stay Human, will help him bring some New Orleans joie de vivre to the show. "All I could say was, 'I think so, too!'"

Raised in a musical family (his father is a member of the Batiste Brothers Band, a fixture in the NOLA music scene), Batiste began playing piano at age 11. At 17, he moved to New York City to study at Juilliard, where he picked up the "harmonaboard"—a handheld keyboard-harmonica hybrid—and formed Stay Human with friends. Their shows often end with a "love riot"—the group shimmying into the audience as Batiste leads a parade of revelers like the Pied Piper. "We call what we do social music," he says. "We even recorded our first album on the subway!"

The Late Show gig presents a new challenge for Batiste: staying put. "We've toured all around the world," he says. "Now we're in one city five nights a week. But Stephen gives me a lot of creative freedom, so I'm sure love riots will be happening—and plenty of other surprises."


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