'Ups and downs of life' - Jon Batiste reveals why he's 'so happy' new documentary American Symphony was made

Virgin Radio

15 Dec 2023, 11:24

Jon Batiste talks to Chris Evans at Virgin Radio.

American musician Jon Batiste swung by Virgin Radio to talk about the intimate new Netflix documentary film which chronicles a year in his life.

The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and composer - who has won an Oscar for Disney/Pixar film Soul - joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch, to speak about American Symphony. The documentary focuses on a year in his life in which he received eleven Grammy nominations and was writing a symphony when his life partner - best-selling author Suleika Jaouad - learned that her long-dormant cancer had returned.

Jon told Chris: “She is the most incredible artist. She's the most incredible writer. She's a community organiser, she's an activist, she's so many things, but to me, she's just the best person in the world.”

He continued: “No spoilers, but in the American Symphony film, you see that she struggles with a leukaemia diagnosis, she has a bone marrow transplant. And she's doing well now, and doing great in the world and moving around, but it was dicey for a minute, we didn't know if she would make it.”

Suleika had previously been diagnosed with a rare form of acute myeloid leukaemia in 2011. “It came back in a way that was so unexpected in the middle of filming this documentary,” Jon said. “So you'll see that American Symphony goes through all of that, goes through the diagnosis, goes through the ups and downs of life.”

On the same day that Jon was nominated for 11 Grammys, Suleika received news of her diagnosis. “The juxtaposition is very, very dramatic,” Jon told Chris. “It’s one of the most difficult periods, if not the most difficult period, of our lives.” 

He added: “You’ve got to go through the dark to get to the light. That's the thing, you’ve got to have both in life, and that's the thing about the film that I love, about art being a creative mechanism for survival, creativity as a means to survival, something that we do to create meaning and purpose in the struggle. That's something everybody has access to, not just the great musicians of the world.”

Jon appeared nightly as bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for seven years. He said: “The last year that I was on the show, is the period that this doc films. So, I'm on television, in millions of homes every night in America, every single night throughout this whole journey that you're seeing. You're seeing me write the symphony, while going to do the show, five nights a week, then I'm also going to the hospital. I'm the main caregiver for my wife. And all this is happening, leading up to Carnegie Hall where we performed a symphony, leading up to the Grammys where we were nominated for 11 Grammys, all these things that happened in the live performances… I'm on the road, it's hard to describe the whiplash of this, this seven, eight month period.”

He continued: “We're going back to the Grammys this year. And the best part is that this year, six nominations, I can go with Suleika this time. I don't want to spoil too much of the film, but when I was at the Grammys, obviously she couldn't be at it with me, and this year, the song was nominated for Song of the Year is a song I wrote, it's entitled Butterfly. I wrote this song for Suleika when she was in the hospital. And now we can go to the Grammys. We get a do over. We get to go to the Grammys together and celebrate the song that I wrote about this period when she couldn't be with us together. So, I'm really living a very blessed life.”

American Symphony was directed by Academy Award-nominated, and six-time Emmy Award-winning film-maker Matthew Heineman. “I'm just so happy that this film was made,” Jon said. “Because a lot of stuff that you see in it, you wouldn't even believe if I would have told you.”

American Symphony is available to watch now on Netflix.

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.