By Bill Vaughan
“The Late Show” band leader, pianist and vocalist Jon Batiste has released “Hollywood Africans,” his first solo and studio album on a major record label via Verve Records.
Recorded in a church-turned-studio in New Orleans and produced by T Bone Burnett, the disc is an homage to his musical heroes and an intimate portrait of the artist — many songs are just Jon and his piano.
“The idea was to strip everything down, go back to basics,” Batiste said. “When you strip something down to its rawest form, the essence of it shines through.”
He believes that this is why, though the album was recorded over such a long time, it still feels unified and not dated. “You’re getting who I am at the core,” Batiste said.
Born in Kenner, Louisiana, Batiste is a member of one of the biggest and most important musical families of the New Orleans area. He started playing drums with the Batiste Brothers Band at age 8 before switching to piano a few years later.
The classic songs covered on the new album include the standard “Saint James Infirmary,” “Smile,” “The Very Thought of You” and Louis Armstrong’s iconic “What a Wonderful World,” which is slowed down to a soothing crawl.
“I took something Pops was known for and restated it, made it into a meditation about where the world is today,” Batiste said.
The title of “Hollywood Africans” comes from a 1983 painting by the great African-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the reference is significant.
“Basquiat is an example of someone drawing from all his influences,” Batiste said, “who benefitted 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,” he added, “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.”
DRUM ROLL: Wendy Raquel Robinson hosts the second annual Hollywood & African Prestigious Awards on Sept. 30 at the Alex Theatre. Honorees include actor Todd Bridges (“Diff’rent Strokes”) and photographer/singer Lamonte McLemore (The 5th Dimension), with performances by Angie Stone and the Crenshaw High School Marching Band.
MOVIE WATCH: After a number of character roles, Common, the Oscar and Grammy winning rapper/actor, is on display as a leading man opposite Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “All About Nina.” Written and directed by Eva Vives, this raw look at the life of a troubled New York stand-up comic is now playing exclusively at select theaters.
CLIPPETTES: “Boomerang,” the hit 1992 Eddie Murphy movie, is getting revived as a sequel series for BET, executive produced by the original’s co-star Halle Berry and Lena Waithe (creator of “The Chi”) …
Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out Live at the Staples Center on Sept. 28; while reedman Bennie Maupin blows at The World Stage and The Sax Pack, featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole and Jackiem Joyner, jam at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach …
John Cusack’s 2000 film “High Fidelity” is being turned into a Disney streaming service series to star Zoe Kravitz in the main role …
Gladys Knight performs on Sept. 29 at the Cerritos Center For the Performing Arts; which also finds vocalist Raheem DeVaughn and comic Tacarra Williams at M3 Live in Anaheim …
When “Inside The Actor’s Studio” moves from Bravo to Ovation TV, it will be with rotating guest hosts as longtime inquisitor James Lipton is retiring from the show …
Music Tastes Good, pairing diverse music artists Janelle Monae, Joey Bada$$, Santigold, New Order, James Blake, Lizzo and more with top area chefs returns to Marina Green Park in Long Beach on Sept. 29 and 30 …
Brian Babylon, heard nationwide on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” has released his debut full-length comedy album, “Babylon Ball Z,” on the Blonde Medicine label …
The venerable Herbie Hancock hits the stage of the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 30 as part of the centennial celebration of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra.
TC ON TV: Sept. 28 – “Hold The Dark” (Netflix): Jeffrey Wright stars as a naturalist who is immersed in a mystery when called to Alaska to hunt for killer wolves. “Truth and Lies: Jonestown, Paradise Lost” (ABC): This documentary on the 40th anniversary of the largest murder-suicide in American history features new interviews with Jim Jones‘ two surviving sons and former members. “The Cool Kids” (Fox): David Alan Grier, Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan are nursing home misfits in this new comedy series. “David Tutera’s Celebrations” (WE): Kym Whitley. “Real Time With Bill Maher” (HBO): Neil deGrasse Tyson, April Ryan and Steve Bannon.
Sept. 29 – “Iyanla: Fix My Life” (OWN): Reality/fashion star Cynthia Bailey seeks to repair her relationship with sister Mallorie. “Saturday Night Live” (NBC): The season opens with host Adam Driver, musical guest Kanye West, and new cast member Ego Nwodim.
Sept. 30 – “God Friended Me” (CBS): Brandon Micheal Hall stars as an outspoken atheist podcaster who receives a friend request from the most high on social media and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Joe Morton (“Scandal”) co-stars as his minister father. “Fear The Walking Dead” (AMC): Though the season ends tonight, Darryl “Chill” Mitchell says a movement has been started since he was cast as the wheelchair bound Wendell. The former rapper turned actor, paralyzed from the waist down since a 2001 motorcycle accident, urges the disabled and their caregivers to get at him for support.
Oct. 1 – “The Neighborhood” (CBS): Cedric the Entertainer, Max Greenfield and Tichina Arnold are the leads in this sitcom about L.A. gentrification. “Suze Orman at The Apollo: Women and Money” (OWN): The Emmy winning, bestselling author’s sold-out lecture at the historic Harlem venue airs. “Happy Together” (CBS): Damon Wayans Jr., Amber Stevens West and Felix Mallard star in a new comedy about a 30-something, happily married couple who begin to reconnect with their younger, cooler selves when a Bieber-like pop star unexpectedly moves in with them.
Oct. 2 – “Black Love: Second Time Around” (OWN): Featured couples, including Niecy Nash and Jay Tucker; and Tina Knowles Lawson and Richard Lawson, share stories of the unexpected, hard-earned and sometimes decades-long journey back to the altar.
Oct. 4 – “Station 19” (ABC): Boris Kodjoe guest stars in the season two premiere of the firefighter drama. “The Grand Hustle” (BET): A winner earns a six-figure salaried position with T.I.’s empire tonight. The first assignment may be the opening of The Trap Muzik Museum in Atlanta celebrating the rapper’s 15th anniversary of popularizing the genre.
TASTY QUIP: “Women have never had it good. At least Katt [Williams] put women on his tour or shows. How many shows back in the day didn’t have a woman on them? Kevin [Hart] … told me one time I would never make it. So I’m calling all cards. I ain’t got to lie. I made it without either one of them. Chris Rock was the one who put me on and Neal Brennan, a white comic/writer. Not them!! And I still had to work my f***ing a** off to make it happen!!” – LESLIE JONES of “SNL” to Bossip.
As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment newspaper columns on the West Coast, serving nearly one million weekly readers. To reach Bill Vaughan, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tastyclips.