Jon Batiste Documentary ‘American Symphony’ Is A Love Story Of A Different Note!, By Amanda Richards, Posted November 24th 2023

The film follows the composer as he balances career highs with his partner Suleika Jaouad’s cancer diagnosis.

Academy Award–nominated director Matthew Heineman’s American Symphony begins in 2022, just as composer Jon Batiste is approaching a summit among many high points in his career. Well known as the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,Batiste is approaching a one-night-only performance at Carnegie Hall to present “American Symphony,” an orchestral piece intended to modernize the form.

At the same time that Batiste’s career is picking up momentum, his life partner, Suleika Jaouad, learns that after a decade-long remission, her cancer has returned. In fact, on the very same day Batiste’s 11 Grammy nominations were announced, Jaouad starts chemotherapy. American Symphony chronicles the emotional heights and depths that follow, creating a narrative that’s part love story, part exploration of the processes and motivations behind two incredible creatives.

“Some people are hardwired to create,” Batiste told Netflix. “We get energy from writing and performing, creating, and gathering people into a community. We also get energy from being together, the two of us, or being alone. We go through these periods of incubation, creativity, and refinement, incubation, creativity, and refinement. You’re letting your thoughts come to you, you’re observing, you’re creating, then you’re putting it out into the world. Then you see what happens and you refine that process. That’s a way of life and that’s a survival mechanism.”

Jaouad says that allowing cameras into the most intimate parts of her cancer treatment was part of keeping her frame of mind intact.

“Illness is something that makes you want to hide,” said Jaouad. “But I’ve learned from going through this before that, as safe as it might feel to retreat when something like this happens, there’s value in pushing through that impulse. When we dare to share our most vulnerable stories, there’s a reverberation that happens: Vulnerability begets vulnerability begets vulnerability.”

Director Heineman says that throughout his time with the couple — and through the shifts in the story’s direction — one thing remained the same: “Jon and Suleika are both radically, inescapably authentic,” Heineman said. “I’ve truly never met people who know themselves so well. And despite all of the points at which they could deviate from being who they are, they both stay radically authentic. That was a beautiful thing to capture.”

For the film, Batiste, who just received six 2024 Grammy nominations, composed an original song, “It Never Went Away.” Check back here for the track.

American Symphony premieres on Netflix on Nov. 29.

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