In a performance that found sweetness in the midst of a grand, luxurious dinner, Jon Batiste played at President Biden’s first State dinner, honoring ties between France and the United States, attended by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte. Beginning with a shout out to his grandfather and the rest of his family seated in the audience, the musician took the stage after being welcomed on by First Lady Jill Biden, whose office had organized this event. Before Batiste was welcomed onto the stage, after performances by the Marine Band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings, Jill Biden commented, “And Joe, I think you have to agree, that really, don’t you think that music is one of the best parts of our lives.”
The innovative jazz musician’s performance began with a joyful, light-hearted rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” on piano, full of light New Orleans-style twists that made a familiar tune deeply unpredictable (in the best possible way). At times it floated, seeming to laugh over the well-known notes, and at times the notes came thundering down. He had no problem including silences in his interpretation, even making the guests cheer in hesitation and anticipation midway through, and the ending danced over the last bars of the song, getting the audience to clap along. He also included a performance on his melodica, inserting a deep note of playfulness into the State dinner.
Prior to this, Batiste was the longstanding bandleader and musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (the host being also in attendance at the dinner), leaving the show after seven years in that role. Batiste also impressively won five Grammy awards this year, including for album of the year with We Are.
Watch Batiste perform Christmas songs at the Paste Studios below: