“American Symphony,” an unusually intimate documentary that follows Jon Batiste as his musical career peaks as his life partner Suleika Jaouad undergoes cancer treatment, brings professional accomplishment and emotional sorrow together somewhat awkwardly. The two chords alternately clash and meld, at times frightening, at times uplifting, without fully breaching Batiste’s protective shell.
The symphony in question relates to Batiste’s talent in developing a new musical approach, merging styles, and going behind the scenes as he prepares for a huge event at Carnegie Hall. Along the way, there’s his Grammy-winning performance from last year, as well as glimpses of his sensitivity to criticism from those who don’t completely understand what he’s trying to do.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of Batiste and Jaouad’s relationship, her cancer diagnosis, and the toll exacted by her treatment, leaving both to celebrate his achievements while facing worry and obstacles at every turn.
“American Symphony” is directed by Matthew Heineman, whose access to the couple literally includes having a camera there as they lie in bed together softly chatting (or silently reading the Bible). Still, Batiste gives the appearance of someone who is careful about his image, a reasonable level of prudence that limits this type of up-close-and-personal activity.
In its investigation of the creative process, “American Symphony” recalls, in some ways, the 1985 documentary about Sting’s first solo album, “Bring on the Night,” which was produced by, among others, the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. Jaouad’s condition definitely adds a separate and emotional thread to the proceedings, in a way that is understandable to everyone who has dealt with such disease, particularly the helplessness when it touches a loved one, while inevitably taking the focus elsewhere.
At the heart of the film, Heineman tries to honour both Batiste’s craft and the couple’s humanity, while also pulling back the curtain a little on the smiling figure audiences came to know both on Stephen Colbert’s show and through his music.
However, “American Symphony” feels more like a collection of photographs than a whole picture — or, perhaps more properly, an unfinished symphony punctuated with exquisite, delicate notes.
Jon Batiste is an American musician, bandleader, and composer known for his work in jazz, R&B, and soul music. Here are some key points about Jon Batiste:
Early Life: Jonathan Michael Batiste was born on November 11, 1986, in Kenner, Louisiana, USA. He comes from a musically talented family and grew up in a rich musical environment.
Musical Background: Jon Batiste comes from a long line of musicians in the Batiste family. He started playing the piano at a very young age and was exposed to various genres of music, including jazz, blues, and classical.
Career Highlights: Batiste is a highly accomplished musician and has achieved significant recognition for his work. He is the bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” a role he has held since 2015. His performances on the show often showcase his versatile musical talents.
Musical Style: Jon Batiste’s musical style is eclectic, drawing influences from jazz, blues, R&B, and classical music. He is known for his dynamic and energetic performances, combining traditional and contemporary elements.
Albums: Batiste has released several albums, including “Hollywood Africans” (2018), which received critical acclaim for its innovative and genre-blending approach. He has also been involved in collaborative projects with other artists.
Social Activism: In addition to his musical career, Jon Batiste is involved in social and political activism. He has used his platform to address issues such as racial injustice and inequality.
Awards: Batiste has received several awards and nominations for his contributions to music, including Grammy Awards. His album “Chronology of a Dream: Live at the Village Vanguard” won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best American Roots Performance.
Film and Television: Apart from his work on “The Late Show,” Batiste has contributed to the soundtracks of various films and television shows. Notably, he collaborated with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on the soundtrack for the animated film “Soul” (2020), which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Jon Batiste’s diverse talents and contributions to the music and entertainment industry have solidified his position as a prominent and influential figure in contemporary music.