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Not My Job: 'Stay Human' Bandleader Jon Batiste Gets Quizzed On Robots

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The following program was taped before an audience of no one.


BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm the man who will subsidize your crops this year. I'm the farm Bill, Bill Kurtis. And here's your host - a native of the Garden State who still thinks that means gardens are where you grow asphalt - Peter Sagal.



Thank you, Bill. It is spring at long last. And it's so exciting after being stuck inside all winter staring at the snow to be stuck inside staring at the mud. It's the cycle of life.

KURTIS: So we thought we'd plant some fertile material from recent shows and see what grows.

SAGAL: For example, musician Jon Batiste, the bandleader for "Late Night With Stephen Colbert" (ph), was recently nominated for an Oscar. We're not saying it's because he appeared on this show in 2018, but we're not saying it's not.

KURTIS: Guest host Faith Salie asked him to confirm a wild rumor - that he made his New York debut playing in the subway.


JON BATISTE: Oh, my goodness. You heard the news (laughter).

FAITH SALIE: Yeah, tell us about that.

BATISTE: Well, we went to Juilliard. And we were there studying and, you know, really, really trying to come up with a sound as a band. And one day, we were eating in a diner. And we were talking about how everybody who plays at Juilliard - you know, you go into an orchestra, or you play in these really, really highfalutin places. And we were like, how do we play for people who may not have the money or the access or may not ever think to go and see a concert at Carnegie Hall or something like that?


BATISTE: So we literally just took our instruments and went down into the subway from that diner. And that summer, we must be played in the subway every day almost of that entire month.


BATISTE: And we played for people for free. We didn't ask for any money. We were like buskers that come into your subway car except we would play like a 30-minute concert. And we wouldn't ask you for money (laughter). So then after that, people were like, wow, these guys are pretty good. And they started coming to coming to our shows. And from there, you know, we started going on tour around the world - from playing on the subways in New York City.

FELBER: Fantastic.

SALIE: Well, you said you did this in the summertime in New York City. It's super hot on the subway.

BATISTE: Oh, my goodness. Imagine carrying a tuba.

SALIE: Yeah.


SALIE: I'm sure the subway riders appreciated your music. But how did the cops feel about it?

BATISTE: Well, oh, my goodness. We had a police officer come to us in the middle of what we call a love riot. And this is - you know, it's called a love riot because from the outside it can resemble a riot. Like, it was 200 people literally blocking the street. And policemen had to come on horseback to unblock the street from this impromptu concert that we'd started somewhere in the East Village. And one of the police officers came to us and was like, you know, y'all could just keep going. This is amazing.



SALIE: Are your - you call what you do social music, right?

BATISTE: That's right. That's right.

SALIE: You're trying to connect with audiences kind of anywhere.

BATISTE: Absolutely - music without borders. You got to get where people can feel a part of the experience, and they're not just spectators.

SALIE: But before you can do that, don't you always have to have an instrument on you?

BATISTE: (Laughter) I play piano primarily. And I started on drums. And, you know, those instruments aren't really that portable. So I started playing the harmonaboard.

SALIE: The harmonaboard?

BATISTE: Yes, it's a melodica...

SALIE: Yeah.

BATISTE: ...Or a melody horn. It has different names. But it's like a harmonica and a keyboard put together.

SALIE: Do you always have a melodica on you?

BATISTE: I took that thing around - oh, my goodness. When I went to Juilliard, I would carry it around everywhere. And the teachers hated it. They hated it.



BATISTE: Oh, they hated it.

SALIE: Because it looks like a children's party favor?

BATISTE: Yes, exactly (laughter).

SALIE: Well, do you have one on you now, Jon?

BATISTE: You know, I'm in my dressing room. And guess what? I do.



SALIE: Jon, would you mind just letting everybody hear how a little old melodica sounds?

BATISTE: Oh, yeah. I'll give it a little toot for you. Let me put the phone down.

SALIE: Thank you.

BATISTE: (Playing melodica).


SALIE: That's amazing. Thank you for that treat, Jon Batiste. You grew up in Kenner, La., into a family of musicians.

BATISTE: Yes, yes, yes.

SALIE: Was there ever a moment in your life where you thought you might not be a musician?

BATISTE: Basically, my whole life until I was one.


BATISTE: Literally, it's almost as if when I went into music mode, it was this alternate universe. And I would step in and out of it. And the thing that was interesting about growing up in Kenner is it's right outside of New Orleans. It's a really small town. And it's a suburb. And I would do regular kid stuff there. I would play basketball. I had tennis lessons. I loved playing chess - you know, just like regular stuff. And then I would go and play with like a literal jazz legend at night in New Orleans. And then I would have to go to school in the morning. So it was like a wild juxtaposition. But then when I was 17, and I moved to New York, and I started my own band in New York, and I was playing gigs, and I was looking around, I was like, I'm really like - I'm a professional musician.


SALIE: Jon, I just have a quick question about scatting.

BATISTE: Can you scat? I'd love to hear that.

SALIE: Well, no.


SALIE: Thank you. My - I have little kids. And they're in a jazz class - a Jazz at Lincoln Center class, in which the teacher in the jazz band encouraged them to scat. And I just feel like this is reckless encouragement for little white kids because...


SALIE: ...I just don't think, like, it's in their genetic wheelhouse. How do you feel about this?

BATISTE: I love it.

SALIE: Is there a pithy way to define scat?

BATISTE: Scatting is really - it's just making the sound or imitating the sound of an instrument with your voice. So like, if you're trying to do something that a saxophone would play with your voice, it might sound like (scatting).

SALIE: Oh, that's amazing.


SALIE: All right. Well, I will then encourage my children if you say it's OK.

BATISTE: I think they should definitely do it.

SALIE: Just not in the house.


SALIE: Jon Batiste, we are so excited to talk to you. And now it's time to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: Stay, human. Now sit, human.


SALIE: In honor of your band Stay Human, we're going to ask you about something very unhuman - our new robot overlords. Answer 2 out of 3 questions about our robot masters right, and you win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, whom is Jon Batiste playing for?

KURTIS: Tyler Redding of Los Angeles, Calif.

SALIE: All right, Jon, here's your first question. When our robots rise up and murder us, they'll have good reason. Which of these is a job formerly done by a human that we now make a robot do - A, the Fidobot, a tiny robot that follows around dogs with little baggies, so you don't have to, B, the Mobot, a robot that painstakingly edits out all of Mo Rocca's thousands of wrong guesses on this show...


SALIE: ...Or, C, the Robutt, a robotic rectum used to help doctors train to give exams?

BATISTE: (Laughter) Maybe it is - I'd have to go with...


BATISTE: Wait. Wait. Say again. Let me hear you.


SALIE: They're saying C. These people are rectum hungry.

BATISTE: Well, let's go with C.

SALIE: There you go. It is the Robutt.


SALIE: You are correct, Jon Batiste.


SALIE: It's called a RTA, a Rectal Teaching Assistant. I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you this exists. Until 2016, they used a human volunteer, but he lost his job. Like, how do you fire that guy?

BATISTE: Wow, wow.


SALIE: Thank you for your service.

TOM BODETT: Where do you go from that?

FELBER: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's a brown slip if I ever heard of one.


SALIE: Here's your next question. To make sure robots never hurt us humans, one roboticist has created - what? - A, a robot made entirely of memory foam, so it's always ready for a cuddle, B, a robot that repeatedly punches a human in the arm to help robots learn exactly what does hurt a human, so they can avoid it or, C, a lifelike human replica that robots can murder when they're having urges?

BATISTE: Oh, my goodness - definitely A, memory foam, cuddler robot. I want that. I need that.


SALIE: You deserve that, Jon Batiste. But I'm sorry. No, the answer is B, the puncher. How can you be expected not to cross the line if you don't know where the line is?

FELBER: So we're training robots to punch us.

SALIE: Yes, yes.


BATISTE: Oh, that's going to end well.

SALIE: Right. All right, Jon...

FELBER: Don't do that, robot, or you might end up taking over the world.


SALIE: All right, Jon, here's your last question. You can still win this. Some day, robots will dominate us in every physical task. But for now, they're helping us. Which of these is a real robot helping athletes - A, the Tomaton, a tiny robot that sits on your shoulders and helps fight fatigue by feeding you tomatoes as you run - or tomatoes - B, the Tiebot, it ties and unties your shoelaces for you, or, C, the Gator-aide, a robot that runs in front of you to scare any alligators that might be in your path?


BATISTE: Well, it ain't C - so the Tomatan.

SALIE: The Tomaton - yes, Jon.


SALIE: This is a real thing. It is a hilarious video. And this is true. There's a smaller version called the Petit-Tomatan, which we guess feeds you cherry tomatoes. Bill, how did Jon Batiste do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Well, Jon, you scatted your way to a win - 2 out of 3.



SALIE: Jon Batiste is the bandleader for the Emmy-nominated "Late Show With Stephen Colbert." His new album "Hollywood Africans" is out September 28. And the first single "Don't Stop" came out Friday. Jon Batiste, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

BATISTE: Absolutely. Bye now.

SAGAL: When we come back, here comes the bride but from where exactly? And the great Ali Wong and the sudden change in demand for her services. That's when we come back in a minute with more WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.