American Symphony: Jon Batiste And Suleika Jaouad-A Factual Film Of Love & Triumph

December 6, 2023

By Stephanie Woods-McKinney

The 92nd. Street continues to celebrate its 150 Anniversary with events, talks, book signings, and in-person discussions. 

The cultural center’s most recent event celebrates the life and triumph of the winner of several Grammy Awards and band leader Jon Batiste and his wife Suleika Jaouad titled  “American Symphony.” Higher Ground Productions, a company founded in 2018 by former President Barack Obama and the former First Lady Michelle Obama produced a heartfelt touching love story about the life and personal exultant journey of the ‘virtuoso’ band leader.  The Netflix film is directed by Academy Award-nominated director Matthew Heineman.

The film takes the viewer on a musical magical journey through love, hardship, and resilience as Jon and Suleika give a candid view of Suleika’s healing journey from Leukemia. The Q&A conversation was moderated by Annette Insdorf. Jon, a musical genius, began his career as a musical prodigy at the age of 8 years old and continued his musical career as a Julliard graduate and band leader.  Jon has traveled the world, but his dreams were never deferred, and he would have made Langston Hughes proud as the Louisiana genius has Harlem blood traveling through his veins.  The band leader has been the musical curator and creative director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem a cultural museum founded in 1996 dedicated to preserving, educating and celebrating Jazz locally and internationally, according to their website at www.JMIH.ORG 

The documentary showcases all elements of an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences worthy film based on truthfulness, joyfulness, music, and every element that touches the heart while ensuring that the good times roll.  Jon also makes certain to elaborate on his musical journey and gives details of his mastery of playing the piano, and keyboards and his fascination with the melodica instrument which he often got in trouble for playing in the hallways while attending high school and while playing at Julliard, the performing arts school where he graduated and received a master’s degree in 2011. 


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As a celebrated band leader, Jon displays his sensitivity, love, and support to his wife as she allows the viewers to get a holistic view of her fight against leukemia. The loving couple is transparent and open, there are many lows, but they have even more highs and that’s the adhesive element that bonds the couple and keeps the audience hooked and intrigued. American Symphony is an orchestrated and composed musical and harmonious film, where the parts display love and triumph.

A must-watch that can be seen on Netflix. 

Stephanie Woods-McKinney

Stephanie Woods-McKinney is a Bronx native who graduated Magna Cum Laude from The College of New Rochelle with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts. She is a vocal community activist who sits on Community Board #10 in the Bronx; is a Co-chair of the Youth & Education Committee and holds a deep love for Hip Hop culture and community activism. Stephanie writes throughout NYC, and Harlem, she has also received countless awards and letters of recognition for her hip-hop photojournalism and a ‘Citation of Merit’ from Eric Adams. https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanie-w-2637a229/

Photo credit: 1-2) Vladimir Kolesnikov/Michael Priest Photography

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