At the top of December, Netflix added a new documentary from Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Matthew Heineman called American Symphony.
‘American Symphony’ Is A Groundbreaking Netflix Documentary
The film follows multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste during what proved to be one of the most pivotal years of his life. At the top of 2022, Batiste finds himself with eleven Grammy nominations including Album of the Year. Rather than resting on these laurels, Jon instead was pushing through another challenging feat, composing “American Symphony”, an original symphony that continued to push classical traditions with plans for a performance at Carnegie Hall. With his professional life busier than ever, Batiste and his life partner – best-selling author Suleika Jaouad – are faced with the daunting news that her long dormant cancer has returned. It’s a love story and a life story that we found to be one of the most moving films we watched this year.
Batiste spoke with GlobalGrind Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden earlier this month. Check out their Q&A below:
GlobalGrind: Going in to make the film, did you know exactly what it was going to be or was it a matter of taking all everything that had been filmed and making it make sense from there ?
Jon Batiste: Yes there was 1500 hours of footage, so at the end of the day, it was really a choice that was made in the edit room, and the commitment through the filming process was to just be vulnerable and be open, allowing for everything to be captured and to find where the line was, in terms of protecting our family. Even just in that time you’re dealing with another wave of COVID, Suleika’s immune system was down and we were traveling and going playing whether it was the Grammys or me being on the set and doing television, the shows, there’s so many things that we had to find the the boundary line of and then at the end of the day just make make the story from all of that footage.
Jon Batiste Has A Hard Time Watching ‘American Symphony’ Because It’s Hard To Relive Those Emotions
GlobalGrind: It can be tough to watch yourself onscreen, and this project is particularly intimate, was there anything you found especially difficult to watch?
Jon Batiste: It’s difficult for me to watch the film and I’ve seen different versions of it, in the process of really getting a sense of what Matt was making, but once the final version came out, I was at the premiere and since then I really haven’t been able to watch the film so much, just because it’s so hard to, not only see myself, but to relive some of the emotions. In that time I was so focused on forward motion and just moving to to the next place of healing and the next place of progress and having great intentions. It was a lot to achieve that, so going back to that is tough.
GG: I can only imagine and I know part of it is being a busy person, obviously sometimes you don’t sit and take the time to really process what you’re going through, have you taken that time to process?
Jon Batiste: Wow. Yeah it’s allowed for me in both conversations like we’re having and even throughout the film you hear the the voiceover, most of it was either in conversation with Matt or conversations Matt was recording with the mic that I had on, that I was just processing in real time. There’s even conversations with my therapist in there where you hear in the moment, that’s how I was able to kind of keep the momentum, is processing it in real time.
GG: One of the other things that grabbed my attention was all the hoopla over the Grammy nominations, the negativity that you seemed to process well, but you did vent some, especially about the industry darling commentary. How ridiculous were some of the things that people were saying? How did you come to the place where you were just like, ‘I’m just going to do me’ and have tunnel vision?
Jon Batiste: Yeah it’s crazy because, when you have so many things working against you, and the culture is, in a certain way toxic, it’s poison in certain areas, obviously there’s greatness in the culture, but there’s always for me looking at criticism, and looking at what the media portrays, especially certain representations of us. It’s like there’s a lot of toxic elements to it, so that was me venting and having just, it’s an indictment of the culture that somebody like me would not be recognized for what and who I am. That speaks to a lot of what our problems are, bigger than just the music industry, and understanding that just really it’s a constant realization it’s a part of being conscious and it’s a battle that you fight by continuing to make quality with your craft and just continuing to be great.
Jon Batiste Wants To Return To His American Symphony, Says It Isn’t Meant To Ever Be Finished
GG: Making this multi-genre music, the kind of music that can get you Grammys across classical, jazz, all the different categories, what’s next for you? What is the next challenge?
Jon Batiste: I really want to play the Symphony again. It’s not something that’s ever meant to be finished. It’s meant to be identifiable, it’s meant to be a vehicle, it’s really meant to be a vessel for a certain type of expression that was missing in the canon and now that it exists, it allows for possibilities of people to play it in all these different ways and for it to evolve and continue to expand and it’s the same with you know any kind of creative outlet that I make. I always try to make it a vehicle to create community, and broaden the expression and have room for a lot of representations of excellence. So I just want to keep building things like that and the Symphony is one of them that I want to repeat in different ways, in different parts of the world.
GG: I think I saw Infinity Song singing in your orchestra, is that right?
Jon Batiste: Yeah we go way back. They’re really close friends, like family. We have a similar journey. When I was with [his band] Stay Human and I was still at Julliard and we would go down from Lincoln Center and play in the subways, they as a family would also be doing performances on the subways and the streets of New York and we met way back then and have been working on music and doing things together ever since.
Global Grind: I love to witness your love, so thank you for making it public for the world to see. I don’t think we celebrate love enough.
Jon Batiste: Yes indeed, wow I’m so grateful to hear that. It’s just a big commitment to open the doors and share, but I do think it’s something that, at this time, it’s worth sharing and worth giving up that privacy. There’s also this loneliness epidemic, where people, especially if you’re in the public eye, there’s a sense that you are exempt from the human condition and suffering, and all of the good things and all of the tough things together. When people see that, it really is powerful and it makes people know that they’re not alone out here, so I’m glad to hear that.
While in New Orleans recently, former first lady Michelle Obama and Academy Award and Grammy-winning musician Jon Batiste sat down to talk life, love, and how art and music can heal. Jon and Mrs. Obama even bonded over their shared wedding songs “Unforgettable”
“When I watched the documentary, it was funny that your wedding song was the same as ours, Unforgettable,” Mrs. Obama told Batiste. “It was the same first dance song.”
American Symphony is streaming now on Netflix
AMERICAN SYMPHONY IS A NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY WITH MERCURY STUDIOS IN ASSOCIATION WITH HIGHER GROUND PRODUCTIONS, AN OUR TIME PROJECTS PRODUCTION
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