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Smile for a Saturday
Music has a way of speaking to us, across genres, across performers, and across the years. It is a conversation that builds from what was said before and evolves over time. All these thoughts flooded forth when we discovered a video of the brilliant musician Jon Batiste performing his version of the Beatles song "Blackbird."
The occasion for the 2016 performance was the 52nd anniversary of the Beatles’ television debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and Batiste was appearing on the very same stage as they had. As many of you likely know, the Ed Sullivan Theater is now home to "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," where Batiste serves as musical director.
Batiste plays "Blackbird" on the piano, whereas the song’s co-writer Paul McCartney (John Lennon shared the writing credit) played his version on the guitar. The musical style also differs, and so does the delivery of the lyrics. But there is a kinship of evocative musicality linking this version to McCartney’s that brought a big smile to our faces. Batiste’s Juilliard-honed abilities as performer and arranger are on full display. So, too, is the genius of the original.
At a time when we are fractured, this song made us feel whole. At a time when we are unmoored, this feels rooted. At a time when we see far too many acts of hate, this feels like a tribute of love.
Left in awe of this performance, we decided to dig a little more into the history of "Blackbird." And things got even more interesting. It turns out the lineage of the song goes back well before the 1968 White Album on which it first appeared — as in centuries back. "Blackbird" was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach — more specifically, his famous "Bourrée in E minor." We will let Sir Paul himself tell you the story.
And here’s McCartney performing the piece in the 1970s.
Bach’s piece was originally written for the lute but has since become a staple for classical guitar. If you are still with us and want to continue this musical journey, here is a performance of the piece on its original instrument.
Through our research we became a bit obsessed with Batiste, his story, and his music. We encourage you to listen to more from this remarkable talent. Here are some links to get you started:
Check out Batiste’s infectious song "Freedom" from this year’s Grammy Award-winning album We Are. Here, Batiste and Stephen Colbert visited the musician’s high school jazz teacher in his native New Orleans to learn about jazz. It’s funny and informative. And showing off the breadth of his musical talent, here Batiste pairs up for a duet with the legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman. Finally, we share a bittersweet profile of the artist from "CBS Sunday Morning" that features Batiste’s remarkable love story with his wife, Suleika Jaouad, a bestselling author who is now battling a relapse of leukemia at just 33 years old.
Thank you for joining us on this Saturday walk through music. We hope we delivered some smiles and recognize there may have been a tear or two along the way. May we find reasons for hope in the power of human expression.