The Oscar winner and Stephen Colbert’s bandleader started by transcribing ‘Mega Man’ and ‘Street Fighter’ themes by ear. Jon Batiste, 34, is the music director and bandleader on TV’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” He recently won an Oscar for co-composing the score for the Pixar-animated film “Soul.” His latest album is “We Are” (Verve). He spoke with Marc Myers.
A few days after my family took possession of a German shepherd at a local corner store, the dog was killed by a car after running into the street. I was 9. We hadn’t even named it yet.
Seeing that happen was formative in terms of developing my empathy. I was crushed. My connection with dogs was over. For the longest time, I didn’t want that bond to happen again.
I grew up in several homes around New Orleans. My family’s house was in Kenner. We had a huge magnolia tree in the front yard. It provided shade and left all these beautiful petals on the lawn. Their smell was sweet and intoxicating. I’d climb the tree to see how high I could jump from a limb without hurting myself.
I also spent time in the Hollygrove home of my grandmother on my mother’s side. And in the summers, I stayed over at the house of my father’s father, Jean, in Bunche Village. He owned a hardware store.