Jon Batiste says documentary became 'symphony of life'

AFP

He planned to make a film about composing his first symphony but in late 2021, award-winning musician Jon Batiste was nominated for 11 Grammy awards and his partner's long-dormant cancer returned, so the movie became more a "symphony of life".

"Imagine you're on stage at the Grammys and you're thinking about what's going on back home," Batiste said of the night in 2022 when he won five trophies including best album.

"We just won the biggest award in music. But everything is put in proper perspective when life is giving you this sort of moment," he said.

Batiste and his wife, journalist and author Suleika Jaouad, teamed up with filmmaker Matthew Heineman to make American Symphony, which was initially going to just capture Batiste's creative process leading up to a performance at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall.

It did just that, and it also showed Jaouad going through a second bone marrow transplant while Batiste was winning awards.

"I think it felt really important to show what it's really like to go through an illness like this... with the hope that it might offer some companionship and comfort to people who are similarly in the trenches of treatment," she said.

"I owe so much to them for having the bravery to open up their lives at such an unbelievably sensitive and critical juncture," said Heineman who shot scenes in Jaouad's hospital room as well as Batiste's bedroom.

"I didn't want to tell the story from the outside. I want it to be an experiential film with them through all the twists and turns," he said.

Sitting alongside her husband in London, Jaouad said she was "doing really well" and despite being told that she would be in treatment indefinitely, she was focused on the present.

"My practice has become to try to live every day as if it's my first, to wake up as a newborn, with a sense of curiosity and awe and wonder."

Batiste has recently been nominated for another five Grammy Awards, and this time around the couple expect to attend the event in 2024 together.

As for the film, which is available on the streaming platform Netflix from November 29, Heineman hopes "it not only brings joy, but also provides a roadmap on how to confront difficult moments".

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