“On this record, I want us to bop, dance, laugh and cry together, unified as one people, while we also remember our black ancestral heroes and wield the superpowers they left us with,” Jon Batiste says of his forthcoming solo album, Hollywood Africans. The acclaimed bandleader, pianist and vocalist is the latest signee to Verve Records, who will release his major label debut on September 28.
Recorded in his hometown of New Orleans, the album is produced by T-Bone Burnett and is described as “an homage to his musical heroes and an intimate portrait of the artist.” As Batiste explains, “The idea was to strip everything down, go back to basics. “When you strip something down to rawest form, the essence of it shines through.” The Kenner-born bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert opted to include on the album’s track list the New Orleans standard “Saint James Infirmary,” as well as “Smile,” “The Very Thought of You” and Louis Armstrong’s timeless “What a Wonderful World.”
Known for his masterful reinterpretations of classics, Batiste says “I took something Pops was known for and restated it, made it into a meditation about where the world is today. The drone I play in my left hand helps get you focused.”
Hollywood Africans’ title comes from a 1983 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting. “Basquiat is an example of someone drawing from all his influences,” Batiste says, “who benefited from the sacrifices of those who came before him, but displayed that we have so much more to do—even though we’ve come a long way. It’s a critique of things we have had to go through, but that have allowed people like me and him the opportunities to do the things we’ve been able to do. This record is a release from the pressures I’ve felt as a black musician, and an homage to the long lineage of ancestors before me who managed to create transcendent art while often being forced to wear a mask and to dim their lights. They tapped into their God-given gifts while under absurd duress, remixing the culture into a fuller, newer, better, more united one. They left us with superpowers—blues, rock and roll, boogie woogie, jazz, gospel, and so many more—all of which suffuse this record. Because of them, I don’t have to wear a mask. I get to be who I am.”
Today (July 27), he released the lead single, “Don’t Stop.” Check it out below.