Tour de force: Jon Batiste’s ‘American Symphony’


“American Symphony” comes to the M.V. Film Center on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 7:30 pm. This documentary follows the career of the tour de force pianist Jon Batiste, providing a history of his performances. The film was directed by Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman, who was nominated for “Cartel Land” in 2016. The screening will be followed by a prerecorded conversation with Heineman.

Nominated for 11 Grammys in 2022, Batiste grew up in New Orleans, where music was part of his family life. He trained at the Juilliard School, and lived in Washington Heights. He then performed for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” as bandleader and musical director for four years. He earned five Grammys in multiple genres, as well as for performing the hit song “Freedom” and the animated film “Soul,” for which at age 36 he won an Oscar for the score.

Describing his remarkable performances, he said music communicated both pain and joy. Batiste developed “American Symphony” over a number of years, presenting it for one night at Carnegie Hall. “Music is more than entertainment for me, it’s a spiritual practice,” he has said.

He met bassist Suleika Jaouad, the woman whom he eventually married, at Skidmore College’s summer jazz camp. Suleika developed leukemia at age 22. Batiste was in awe of her. Her illness returned after 10 years in remission: “When it feels like something, but it’s not something,” Suleika said of the illness. She described Batiste as a musician’s musician.

Batiste said, “Overnight a lot of stuff changed, but also a lot of stuff was in the making for years.” He didn’t pay much attention to “what other people say about me,” adding that he never wanted to be famous. After winning the album of the year Grammy for “We Are,” he joyfully said in his acceptance speech, “I love you even if I don’t know you! Good night!”

“Mindfulness is a big part of what I do,” he says. Religious in nature, he’s shown reading the Bible at one point in the film. Batiste said, “What we love about music is that it sounds inevitable.” According to him, the Grammy-winning album was “a culmination of a lot of things artistically, philosophically, and in my life.”

Information and tickets for “American Symphony” are available at