True to his New Orleans roots, Jamal Batiste’s style of drumming is a unique blend of different rhythmic elements drawing on rock, funk, soul, gospel, hip hop and R&B. Writing, recording, and performing on his Jam-All Pro Music Group label, the Jamal Batiste Band have toured all over North America and across the globe, including stops in the Caribbean, South Africa, Morocco, Japan, Ireland, Scotland, France, and England.
Batiste’s contributions to music extend beyond his own recordings. He’s also a sought-after performer, and even graced the big screen in the 2014 James Brown biopic “Get On Up.” Batiste’s talents have earned him numerous accolades over the years, including awards from the New Orleans City Council, the mayor of New Orleans, and President Barack Obama, who presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Christian Stankee, SABIAN’s Global Artist Relations Director, caught up with Batiste at the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Christian Stankee: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of your well-known family in New Orleans?
Jamal Batiste: Yeah, the Batiste family are very well known, and it goes really far back: 50s, 60s, and then all the way up to this point, the name has been basically a very important part of the culture here in New Orleans. You’ve got many legendary families that’s not only doing stuff here in New Orleans or in the state of Louisiana, but also all over the world. So, to be born into the Batiste family and knowing that this name has been going all around the globe from different members of our family, it’s just something amazing, man. So, I’m just grateful and thankful I’m a Batiste, B-a-t-i-s-t-e!
CS: Who are some of the family members that you grew up watching and learning from?
JB: Yeah, honestly, I tell everybody this. I learned from my brother Russell Batiste. That’s who I learned from when I was three years old. He was the first person I saw on drums. And seeing him, you know, it was just something else, it was just unbelievable. And I got older, fast forward to say, five or six years old, and got behind the drums. I was hooked. And it was always just watching my brother Russell playing in my living room. So, Russell Batiste, everybody knows the name. If you don’t know, you could just Google him or YouTube him and you’ll find a bunch of stuff.
CS: You’re playing a TON of gigs over the next two weekends. I saw you yesterday with Leo Nocentelli and the Meters, of course, famous band in New Orleans. Some of the originators of the best funk around. What have you learned from Leo playing those great songs and the legendary drum parts by Ziggy Modeliste?
JB: So yeah, man, working with Leo is something. Here’s the thing, this is a fun fact: Leo actually discovered me in a sense when I was like 13 or 14 years old. I was still in elementary school going into high school. And it just so happens, since my father David Batiste Sr. had been working with him a good bit, my father brought me to one of the gigs that they were doing. Mind you, I’m 13 or 14 years old, like in a club, and just started playing. And ever since then, both of our families, we’ve just been in contact. Another fun fact is my first time performing at the NAMM show was with Leo Nocentelli and playing a double drum set alongside Michael Jackson’s drummer, Jonathan Sugarfoot Moffett, who’s originally from New Orleans as well. So it was pretty much all family. And [I’m] still working with Leo to this day. He’s done a lot of work. [His] stuff is still being sampled, and I knew so many of his songs before really working with him.
CS: Yeah. I mean, those songs are standards in New Orleans. You got to know how to play “Cissy Strut” before you do anything.
JB: Yeah! It’s just been great working with him and still working with him. So, there’s more work that we’re doing together and just looking forward to more great things, man.
CS: So, is that your main gig these days?
JB: Yes. So it’s between playing with Leo, playing with Bill Summers – everybody knows him from Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters – and then still doing stuff with my band, Jamal Batiste Band. Working with some new acts – one that’s from New Orleans that I’m working with is Flagboy Giz. He’s like the newest, freshest thing that’s happening right now. And like a host of others. I’m playing with him at Jazz Fest this year, I’m also playing with Ha Sizzle at Jazz Fest. I’m playing with Kelly Love Jones at Jazz Fest. So, as you said, it’s just a busy next couple of weeks!
CS: With so many different styles, gigs and artists, how does your SABIAN stuff work into this? Are you changing cymbals out for every gig to make it work?
JB: Man, I tell you, the SABIAN HHX Complex Series has really been my go-to. Working on and playing on those cymbals has [helped] me to be extremely diverse in multiple genres. Whether it’s straight-ahead jazz, whether it’s hip hop, whether it’s rock, R&B or gospel, those HHX Series have been getting me through. Just giving me like my best sound and performance on major stages, the clubs, everything. Also, even working with the AAX as well – those actually I started on first, before I found out about the HHX, and just the sound and tone that they brought to the table…I’m pretty much hooked on SABIAN Cymbals…but the Complex series, it’s been like it’s been freakin’ phenomenal for me. I love it, man.
Connect with @jamallpro on all social media platforms to keep an eye on this rising star!
SABIAN would also like to acknowledge Jamal’s brother Russell who recently and suddenly passed away. He was a remarkable player who was an icon and part of the rich musical fabric in New Orleans and around the world. Our condolences to the Batiste family.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.