“I could feel y’all through the camera,” singer-songwriter Jon Batiste said during a break in his Free at Noon performance. “I love you even if I don’t know you. Yes indeed, love is the answer.”

The celebrated composer and vocalist was seated behind a shiny Steinway grand piano at WNYC’s Green Space studio, coming up for air after a cascade of notes that flowed from the opening “Don’t Stop” — which was pensive and reflective, but so powerful — and into a freewheeling improvisation that fused “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — “two national anthems put together,” as Batiste described it.

“It’s hard for me to talk when I’m in the zone,” Batiste said. “This is what I like to do in my living room, my studio: to play and explore, and whatever comes out is what its is. That’s really a special thing to share with people in this time when we can’t connect in person like that; I don’t have many people in my living room this past year.”

A version of “I Need You” rode a pendulum between a swinging blues rock and roll rhythm into brooding depths as Batiste’s lyrical meditations mixed collective nostalgia with personal memory. Concluding the set, he played an interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Thing Ain’t What They Used To Be” into another improvised movement — what Batiste called as “an opportunity to channel some spirit.”

Watch the performance below, and check out the Free at Noon archives here.

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Don’t Stop
Improv Movement 1
Star Spangled Banner / Lift Every Voice and Sing
I Need You
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Improv Movement Outro