Jamal Batiste Drums His Way Into James Brown Biopic “Get on Up”

Local drummer Jamal Batiste is set to make waves on the big screen as the legendary James Brown’s drummer John “Jabo” Starks in the James Brown biopic Get on Up.

The long awaited screen adaptation of the Godfather of Soul’s life story will premier on August 1, and Batiste is ready for his close up.

John Jabo Starks and Jamal Batiste, Get on Up, OffBeat Magazine

John "Jabo" Starks and Jamal Batiste.

As a member of the musical Batiste family, which has far too many members spread throughout the New Orleans music community to count, Jamal Batiste was already keeping himself busy with his Unorthodox Drummer and Honorable South projects when he attended an open casting call at the Old U.S. Mint.

“My father got word about the auditions, and he really just passed the word on to me,” Batiste said. “I was kind of like thinking nothing of it, and I just went there kind of like to just see what would happen.”

Batiste’s interest was piqued when he was called back a few weeks later for a second audition, this time in Natchez, Mississippi, where he was asked to play a James Brown song on the drums.

“Then I got another call to play again, and this time it was to play with the other musicians that were called back as well,” Batiste said. “They wanted us to play as a full unit – horns, bass, guitar, piano – everything. We basically just jammed out.”

After that went well, Batiste started getting excited. Soon after the call back jam session, he was asked to attend a rehearsal, and things started clicking into place.

“It just so happens that the first rehearsal that I went to, the main guy that is playing James Brown, Chadwick Boseman, he was there, so that pretty much made it official,” Batiste said.

He was informed that he would be portraying Jabo Starks during several key musical performances in the movie.

“I was very blessed to actually meet him [Starks] up close in person, pretty much after the whole shoot had taken place,” Batiste said. “His family knows my mother’s family in Mobile, Alabama, very well, so we were already connected without even knowing.”

Batiste spent two months in Natchez and Jackson, during which he said the entire crew worked long hours and practiced almost non-stop.

Not that there weren’t any perks to being in the movie.

“The last scene that we were working on, Mick Jagger was actually in the building,” Batiste said. “Once they said it was a wrap, he came through and shook hands with everybody.”

The production company has kept all pictures that feature the actors in costume locked down so far, including the pictures with Jagger, but Batiste said it’s bound to surface online sooner or later.

Even though his part didn’t include any lines of dialogue, Batiste called playing Jabo Starks a once in a lifetime honor that he wouldn’t trade for anything.

“The songs that everybody knows, like ‘Get on Up,’ ‘Sex Machine,’ and all of that, Jabo was responsible for those beats,” Batiste said. “And then of course when you think about hip hop and these James Brown drum samples that we hear, a lot of that stuff is Jabo being sampled. As a music producer, I want to say I have even sampled one of his songs.”