April 27, 2022

Yin and yang, good and evil, darkness and light. For eternity, there has been this inevitable push and pull and most of us aim to find that precarious balance. Jon Batiste – Grammy Award-winning musician, bandleader of Stay Human, and musical director of The Late Show with Steven Colbert – is striking a literal and figurative chord with his perspective on life, its setbacks, and celebrations.

Batiste’s gift of music seems to radiate outward from his soul. Effortlessly, he taps out melodies the way you or I might laugh or sigh – almost unconsciously and somewhat unexpectedly, especially to those around him. His true gift lives in how he uses his talent to bring light into the darkness.

Leukemia and Lullabies
When his wife, Suleika Jaouad (author of Between Two Kingdoms) suffered a relapse of leukemia, COVID-Omicron meant he could not stay with her during her bone marrow transplant. To ward off the dark loneliness, he composed a new lullaby for her – every day.

Defying the Darkness
Jaouad and Batiste wed on the night before she began her chemotherapy treatment. Batiste called the decision an “act of defiance” – a way to take on the grief and fear by refocusing on the light.

Classical to Drum Lines
Batiste is the Carnegie Hall 2021-2022 Season Perspectives Artist. His composition, “American Symphony,” honors the history of Black music and artists from across genres – classical symphony, legendary jazz, big band, and traditional marching band – and builds on that legacy to present a new perspective. “American Symphony” considers the strain between America’s ideals and its realities; Batiste says the composition asks, “Are we up to the task of democracy?”

Many Awards, One Hand
Batiste received the highest number of Grammy nominations of any artist this year (11), and he took home the most awards that evening, five in total. In the midst of this high point, Batiste and Jaouad are coping with an unimaginable struggle. Their approach, says Jaouad, is to hold both the painful things and the beautiful things “in the same palm of one hand.”

For Batiste, balance and healing comes through music. He encourages everyone to seek and find their own way to face the bad and embrace the good while fully accepting the reality of both.