Internationally acclaimed musician Jon Batiste, a Forbes "30 under 30" who is the music director and bandleader for "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," will address the graduating class and receive an honorary doctorate when Salve Regina celebrates its 67th Commencement Sunday, May 21.
Also receiving an honorary degree will be music industry icon George Wein, creator of the Newport Jazz Festival and co-creator of the Newport Folk Festival, among many other well-known events.
Batiste and his band – Stay Human – collaborated with Salve Regina's Department of Music, Theatre and Dance along with Newport Festivals Foundation on International Jazz Day in 2014 to perform for local elementary school students, conduct master classes for Rhode Island high school students, and perform an evening concert for the public – all in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Wein and his company – Festival Productions – have partnered with Salve Regina numerous times over the years in bringing renowned musicians such as Batiste to campus. Other masters who have conducted workshops for local students and presented performances as a result of this partnership include pianist Danilo Perez, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen and trumpeter Jon Faddis.
Born into a long lineage of Louisiana musicians, Batiste eventually went on to receive both his undergraduate and master's degrees in piano from the Juilliard School and formed his band, Stay Human. His musical skill, artistic vision and exuberant charisma make him a triple threat with unlimited potential. Recognized for his originality, jaw-dropping talent and dapper sense of style, he transitions from commanding the piano with virtuosic skill, to soulfully crooning, to wailing on the "harmonaboard" (a kind of harmonica and keyboard), to curating unique "social music" experiences all over the world.
Batiste balances a demanding performance schedule – which often includes his signature, impromptu "love riot" street parades – with his role as bandleader with "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," artistic director at large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, public speaking engagements, master classes and occasional acting gigs. He played himself on the HBO series "Treme" and most recently appeared in director Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer."
The New York City-based musician has released several self-produced independent albums, including "MY N.Y.," which was recorded entirely on the street corners and subways of NYC and "Jazz is Now," featuring his singular approach to jazz standards and jazz composition in the classic piano trio format. His only label partnership to date occurred when he partnered with Razor & Tie, the small Greenwich Village-based record label, for his 2013 release "Social Music," which spent more than a month atop the Billboard and iTunes jazz charts as the No. 1 jazz album in the world. He was most recently featured on a new release from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis titled "The Music of John Lewis." It features material written by John Lewis, best known as the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Batiste is also a coveted artist brand ambassador who is currently featured in ad campaigns for Chase Bank, the Apple Watch, Lincoln Continental and numerous fashion brands including Polo Ralph Lauren Black Label, Frye, Kate Spade, Jack Spade Barneys, Nordstrom and H&M. He has worked with, among others, Bruce Weber and Annie Leibowitz and his personal style has been profiled in numerous fashion publications including GQ, Vanity Fair, CR Fashion Book, Esquire and Vogue.
Strongly committed to the education and mentoring of young musicians, Batiste has led his own social music residency and mentoring program sponsored by Chase, as well as hundreds of master classes throughout the world. He has also led several cultural exchanges, beginning in 2006 when he led a cultural exchange program with the Netherlands Trust.
Through his company, Festival Productions, Wein has spearheaded hundreds of music events since 1954 when he produced the first Newport Jazz Festival – an event that started the festival era. Five years later, Wein and folk icon Pete Seeger created the Newport Folk Festival. In 1970, Wein created the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein pioneered the idea of sponsor association with music events, beginning with the Schlitz Salute to Jazz and the Kool Jazz Festival. His company went on to produce titled events for JVC, Mellon Bank, Verizon, Essence, Ben & Jerry's and others.
As a result of his diverse contributions to jazz and world culture, Wein has been honored by heads of state, educational institutions and leading publications. He is an NEA Jazz Master (Jazz Advocate), and in 2013 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and New Englander of the Year from the New England Council.
In 2012 Wein was given the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Arts for an individual "whose genius, energy and excellence has defined or redefined an art form." In addition, honors and awards have been bestowed upon him by presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, AARP, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the French Legion d'Honneur, Chile's Order of Bernardo O'Higgins and other organizations around the world. Wein is the recipient of honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music, Rhode Island College, Five Towns College and North Carolina Central University. He is a lifetime honorary trustee of Carnegie Hall and a member of the board of trustees at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2015, Wein received a Grammy Trustees Award for his outstanding contributions to the music industry.
In addition to his work as a producer, Wein is an accomplished jazz pianist whose group Newport All-Stars has toured the United States, Europe and Japan. Over the years, the Newport All-Stars has featured some of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz.
Jon Batiste photo by Marissa Mullen