May 23, 2024
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  • 3:13 pm Muleshoe Art Association holds last meeting of the year

Many Americans first became aware of Jon Batiste when he landed the band leader gig on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Among other things, he was notable for his choice of instrument, the melodica, a wind instrument/piano, defined by Wikipedia as a child’s instrument.

In the Netflix documentary “American Symphony,” Batiste reveals that his instrument didn’t get a lot of respect at Julliard where he was admitted at age 17. However, the New Orleans native and his melodica proved popular in the subways, where he and his band Stay Human played.

On The Late Show, Batiste provided expert piano sound effects when Colbert pretended to toss something away, and loudly exclaimed “Oh, yah-uh!” when enthusiasm was called for.

However, he continued composing and performing, and, after racking up five Grammy awards out of 11 nominations, Batiste stepped away from The Late Show with Colbert’s blessing.

The documentary shows a less exuberant, more introspective side to the artist. Near the beginning of the film, he tells us why we love music:

“We love it because it sounds inevitable. It plays the theme that is unfolding, and it’s always there. We just need to harness it, be open to it.”

The film gently explores Batiste’s relationship with his wife Suleika Jaouad, an Emmy-award winning journalist and best-selling author who experiences a recurrence of leukemia after 10 years in remission.

The couple shows a poignant yet quirky side as they walk down a hospital hallway playing a game of Simon Says, moving back and forth to imitate one another’s gestures. At their 2022 wedding, they exchange rings which are, quite recognizably, twist ties.

Batiste struggles with his own health issues, breathing his way through panic and anxiety attacks, struggling with whether he ought to continue his tour or go home to his wife.

Despite the Grammy wins, not everyone is willing to take Batiste seriously. In the background radio announcers are heard harshly questioning his musical style. Is he really a classical composer? Weren’t some of the other artists more worthy of the awards?

A humorous moment occurs at an airport shoeshine stand when the proprietor asks what Batiste does for a living. Batiste replies that he’s a musician, but the man knows he must be something more because a guy with a camera is following his every move.

People suddenly start to notice, and stop by, congratulating Batiste over and over for his Grammy wins.

In “American Symphony” we learn what it takes for a musician to stay human while dealing with love, life, illness, pain – all those things which make us fully human.

Gail M. Williams

Muleshoe Journal Correspondent


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