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Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's 'American Symphony' At Carnegie Hall
Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022

Photo: Stephanie Berger

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Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's 'American Symphony' At Carnegie Hall

At Carnegie Hall, Jon Batiste finally unveiled his long-awaited 'American Symphony.' And from its realism to its range to its limitless imagination, it didn't disappoint.

GRAMMYs/Sep 23, 2022 - 08:53 pm

An industry darling paying tribute to the land of the free in what's arguably the most prestigious room in said country. The title: American Symphony. Does this sound dry, erudite, staid? Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is Jon Batiste we're talking about, he who exudes creativity, thoughtfulness and charm with every piano trill, with every shout-out to Duke, Nina, Billie and Louis, with every impish, camera-ready grin. Even sans piano, his hands tend to dance, fingers extended southward, his locks projecting in all directions.

And on Sept. 22, when Batiste strode, clad in royal blue, down the aisles of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium to its Perelman stage — which those four progenitors graced — his mind was visibly whirring. (Even in his ride to the gig, he was noodling on a synth, mulling over ideas.)

After the standing ovation ceased, it was time to behold a new kind of American symphony — not a bland, flag-waving one, or one that papers over the strife and ugliness and outright horror of the nation's founding.

No, this one has banjoists and steel drummers and Afro-Latin percussionists and Indigenous vocalists and drummers. It has a hefty-looking modular synth. It has screams and police sirens and disembodied conversations. It has ominous, decaying runs at the bottom of the piano's register.

This glorious cacophony acts as the answer to Batiste's questions in the show program: "What if the symphony was invented today in America? Who would participate in the modern American orchestra? What would it sound like?" And as the five-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee explains, those prompts sent him on this composerly journey more than three years ago.

Batiste was supposed to debut American Symphony back in May, a month after he swept the 2022 GRAMMYs, including a golden gramophone for Album Of The Year. After the maestro contracted COVID, the show got kicked forward to the beginning of fall; perhaps that extra time enabled him to further tighten the screws.

JonBatisteCarnegieHallAmericanSymphony

*Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger*

Because even during the parts where American Symphony seems to float like mist, it's tightly written and conceived. And due to its force of imagination, musical economy, and sheer diversity of sounds and ideas, there wasn't a dull moment in the performance's intermission-free two hours.

Subdivided into an overture and four conceptual movements — titled "Capitalism," "Integrity," "Globalism," and "Majesty — American Symphony takes the masked, black-tie-clad audience on a journey through the United States' manifold, oft-contradictory nature through music that majestically heaves, tormentedly deliberates, and joyously soars.

Using the monumental collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as a lodestar ("They consistently synthesized cultural lineages through the lens of a pluralistic and noble worldview," Batiste writes), he captures America's cultural multitudes through an intertwining of a vast range of African diasporic traditions — Caribbean, Brazilian, Yoruba, Haitian, Creole.

And given that New Orleans represented a nexus of these influences, the performance felt like a jubilant tribute to the Big Easy — Batiste grew up in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans — while framing it as a wellspring and living source of American excellence.

By putting the Black experience front and center, Batiste rendered American Symphony realistic, not jingoistic. The symphony balances interpolations of patriotic mainstays like "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with songs invaluable to the civil-rights movement, like "We Shall Overcome" — all with musical suggestions of disharmony and struggle shadowing the margins.

The overture suggested a form taking shape from welter and waste, Book of Genesis style. As its vast diversity of instruments and traditions commingled, the composition swirled semi-shapelessly, until it coalesced into melodies and motifs. This isn't meant to evoke pre-colonialization American continent being, absurdly, some kind of blank slate; the conspicuous Indigenous elements drove that crucial point home. Rather, it suggests a budding republic.

In the program, Batiste cites "essential elements of the American democratic system" and "the U.S. Constitution as a reference point," stressing that "this score is a living document that will evolve over time." Likewise, the audience felt the American experiment evolving, experiencing growing pains, and reckoning with the stains of its past. And great blasts of percussion punctuated it like cannonfire.

"Capitalism" focused on "the building of cities and structures that have long since shaped the way we relate to one another and to the land." Incorporating a din of clashing electronic tones — and giving way to shimmering, Phillip Glass-like clusters of notes from the composer's Steinway — this movement shattered any preconceived notions that this would be some kind of American Revolution exhibit.

This blurred into another counterweight — an educated guess would place this in "Integrity." (The movements weren’t announced, and didn't always begin and end in straightforward fashion; often they blurred into each other.) Fiddlers suggested nascent country music, the everyday citizen, the Great Plains.

"Don't give up/ Don't give in," a gospel section sang, waried yet calming and resolute. Soon after came the clap-alongs, the exhortations, the benedictions, which kept American Symphony from ever tripping into anything lecturing or tiresome or polemical. Most everyone was on their feet.

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*Jon Batiste performing at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Photo: Stephanie Berger*

After a tranquil and diffuse middle section where the intermission might have been slotted, American Symphony went lighter on signifiers and heavier on simple, strong flavors, threading wheedly synth lines into splendorous strings. Batiste kept the proceedings in something of a Goldilocks zone — charmingly ramshackle and kitchen-sink, but never sloppily so.

Following the piped-in sounds of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — ending with "Amen" — American Symphony concluded with an orchestral tantrum that could make one's heart leap in their throat. For an encore, Batiste took to the piano, concluding with a "Star-Spangled Banner" full of jazzy, winking syncopation and substitute chords.

If the performance seemed to weave around genre distinctions, or traditional ideas of what a symphony is, that's no accident at all. After all, this is Batiste we're dealing with; at this juncture, he's possibly mainstream music's most public and voracious omnivore.

"I don't even think genre exists," Batiste told GRAMMY.com back in 2021, upon the release of his last album, WE ARE. "Self-curation and the free exchange of information and content creates a lack of genre adherence. That kind of diversity and access changes listening habits and changes the way people perceive music."

Perhaps that's the most lasting effect of American Symphony at this stage, before it evolves and mutates and sharpens itself — like the highly variable nation of its namesake.

Without hectoring or over-explaining or shoving a reading list at you, Batiste's ambitious suite can rewire your thinking and sharpen your gaze as a citizen. All while capturing the essence of this incalculably messy yet stubbornly optimistic home of the brave.

Jon Batiste Talks New Album We Are, His Brain-Breaking Itinerary & Achieving "Freedom" From Genre

2024 GRAMMYs: Miley Cyrus Wins The GRAMMY For Record Of The Year for "Flowers"
Miley Cyrus at the 2024 GRAMMYs

Photo: Valerie Macon / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

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2024 GRAMMYs: Miley Cyrus Wins The GRAMMY For Record Of The Year for "Flowers"

2024 GRAMMYs: Miley Cyrus Wins The GRAMMY for Record Of The Year for "Flowers"

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 04:44 am

Miley Cyrus has won Record of the Year at the 2024 GRAMMYs for her hit “Flowers.”

Accepting the award with her production team, Cyrus was irreverent and self-effacing, especially after having already won her first ever Golden Gramophone for Best Pop Solo Performance earlier in the evening.

“This award is amazing, but I really hope it doesn’t change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday,” Cyrus said.

The pop singer beat out Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, Jon Batiste, Dua Lipa, SZA, Olivia Rodrigo, and Billie Eilish for the award, which was presented by Mark Ronson and his mother-in-law, the actress Meryl Streep. “Flowers” was a massive commercial hit, debuting at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending eight consecutive weeks in the top spot.

As she finished her speech, during which she thanked her collaborators, their partners, and her fans, Cyrus said “I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone, but I might’ve forgotten underwear.”

Keep checking this space for more updates from Music’s Biggest Night!

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

2024 GRAMMYs To Pay Tribute to Tony Bennett, Sinead O'Connor, Clarence Avant & Tina Turner With In Memoriam Segment
(Clockwise from top-left:) Annie Lennox, Fantasia Barrino, Jon Batiste, Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, Stevie Wonder.

Photo: Courtesy of artists

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2024 GRAMMYs To Pay Tribute to Tony Bennett, Sinead O'Connor, Clarence Avant & Tina Turner With In Memoriam Segment

The GRAMMY Awards segment will feature performances by Stevie Wonder in tribute to Tony Bennett; Jon Batiste honoring Clarence Avant; Annie Lennox for Sinead O'Connor; and Fantasia Barrino remembering Tina Turner, airing live on Sunday Feb. 4.

GRAMMYs/Feb 2, 2024 - 10:34 pm

The 2024 GRAMMYs will feature a special In Memoriam segment to honor the lives of some of the incredible individuals that the music world lost this year with performances by GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists. 

Stevie Wonder will take the stage to pay homage to the legendary Tony Bennett, celebrating Bennett's remarkable contributions to music and devotion to the Great American Songbook.

Annie Lennox will perform in tribute to Irish icon Sinead O’Connor. Joining her for this heartfelt homage will be Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman

Jon Batiste is set to honor Clarence Avant, the "Godfather of Black Music," with a performance dedicated to the influential figure's impact on music and culture. Lenny Kravitz, one of this year's Global Impact Award recipients, will also play a significant role in this segment, both participating and introducing the tribute, linking two generations of music icons.

In a tribute to the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, Tina Turner, Fantasia Barrino will perform, capturing the spirit and energy of Turner's music. Oprah Winfrey will also be part of this segment, introducing the performance, and adding a layer of gravitas to the tribute to one of music's most powerful voices.

In addition to the In Memoriam segment, the 2024 GRAMMYs will feature breathtaking performances from the leading artists in music today. Performers at the 2024 GRAMMYs include Billie Eilish, Billy Joel, Burna Boy, Dua Lipa, Joni Mitchell, Luke Combs, Olivia Rodrigo, SZA, Travis Scott, and U2

Several confirmed GRAMMY performers will make GRAMMY history at the 2024 GRAMMYs this weekend: Mitchell will make her GRAMMY performance debut, while U2 will deliver the first-ever broadcast performance from Sphere in Las Vegas. Click here to see the full list of performers and presenters at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Trevor Noah, the two-time GRAMMY-nominated comedian, actor, author, podcast host, and former "The Daily Show" host, returns to host the 2024 GRAMMYs for the fourth consecutive year; he is currently nominated at the 2024 GRAMMYs in the Best Comedy Album Category for his 2022 Netflix comedy special, I Wish You Would

Learn More: 2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

2024 GRAMMYs: Explore More & Meet The Nominees

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will broadcast live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Prior to the Telecast, the 2024 GRAMMYs Premiere Ceremony will broadcast live from the Peacock Theater at 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET and will be streamed live on live.GRAMMY.com

On GRAMMY Sunday, fans can access exclusive behind-the-scenes GRAMMY Awards content, including performances, acceptance speeches, interviews from the GRAMMY Live red-carpet special, and more via the Recording Academy's digital experience on live.GRAMMY.com

The 66th GRAMMY Awards are produced by Fulwell 73 Productions for the Recording Academy for the fourth consecutive year. Ben Winston, Raj Kapoor and Jesse Collins are executive producers. 

Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers will have access to stream live via the live feed of their local CBS affiliate on the service, as well as on demand in the United States. Paramount+ Essential subscribers will not have the option to stream live but will have access to on-demand the day after the special airs in the U.S. only.

Stay tuned for more updates as we approach Music's Biggest Night!

How To Watch The 2024 GRAMMYs Live: GRAMMY Nominations Announcement, Air Date, Red Carpet, Streaming Channel & More

The Official 2024 GRAMMYs Playlist is Here: Listen To Songs By SZA, Doja Cat, Taylor Swift, Jon Batiste, & More
(L-R, clockwise from top left): Burna Boy, Rauw Alejandro, SZA, Jelly Roll, Taylor Swift, boygenius, Miley Cyrus

Photos (L-R, clockwise from top left): Joseph Okpako/WireImage, Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Latin Recording Academy, Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post via Getty Images, Taylor Hill/WireImage, Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic, Vijat Mohindra/NBC via Getty Images

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The Official 2024 GRAMMYs Playlist is Here: Listen To Songs By SZA, Doja Cat, Taylor Swift, Jon Batiste, & More

Before the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 4, explore 80 GRAMMY-nominated tracks by artists that span genres from pop, rap, spoken word, and beyond.

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2024 - 10:21 pm

The air is thick with anticipation less than a week ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs. Before the stars gather for Music's Biggest Night, spend some time getting to know the music that made the 66th GRAMMY Awards.

The Official 2024 GRAMMYs Playlist features 80 GRAMMY-nominated tracks that are up for a golden gramophone on Sun. Feb 4. It spans all categories and genres, starting with Olivia Rodrigo's "vampire" from her album GUTS, which helped her earn Record and Song Of The Year as well as  Album Of The Year nods, respectively. 

The 80-piece playlist also includes Jon Batiste's "Butterfly," nominated for Song Of The Year; "Angry" from the Rolling Stones, nominated for Best Rock Song; and Best New Artist nominee Victoria Monét, among many others. Collectively, the featured artists represent the range of musical talent and wealth of experience — and they’ll all make the 2024 GRAMMYs a night to remember.

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, will air live from the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 4 (8 -11:30 p.m. LIVE ET/5-8:30 p.m. LIVE PT) on the CBS Television Network and will stream on Paramount+ (live and on demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).

Listen to the Official 2024 GRAMMYs Playlist on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music below, and stay tuned to GRAMMY.com for more updates as we approach Music's Biggest Night!

Inside 'American Symphony': 5 Revelations About The Jon Batiste Documentary
(L-R) Matthew Heineman, Jon Batiste, Lauren Domino

Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Netflix

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Inside 'American Symphony': 5 Revelations About The Jon Batiste Documentary

'American Symphony,' a new Netflix documentary about five-time GRAMMY winner Jon Batiste and his wife, author Suleika Jaouad, is an uncommonly intimate and incisive work. At a screening, Batiste and the filmmakers revealed how it came together.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2023 - 07:12 pm

Director Matthew Heineman planted his flag with gritty, warts-and-all documentaries about warfare, drug cartels and the devastating impact of the pandemic. As such, the proposition for American Symphony — a beloved musician's journey to his Carnegie Hall debut — might seem like lighter fare.

But as Heineman expertly draws out, this is a whole other kind of battlefield.

From its first scenes, it's abundantly clear this is not just about Batiste's titular, boundary-bulldozing work from 2022. That story is twinned with a different kind of symphony — the one between human beings, loving one another through unimaginable duress. As Batiste labored over this expansive, freighted production, his wife, Between Two Kingdoms memoirist Suleika Jaouad, reckoned with the return of her leukemia. 

From Batiste's palpable panic to an (unshown) bed filled with blood, American Symphony is unafraid to stare this tribulation in the eyes, as it follows Batiste's inimitable creative process. Even as it builds to its crescendo, Heineman keeps it bracingly human-level — and the result is a triumph.

A week after American Symphony hit Netflix, Heineman and Batiste sat down with the film's co-producer, Lauren Domino, and moderator Joe McGovern of "The Wrap," at Brooklyn Academy of Music for a post-screening spin through the documentation process. Here are five revelations from the discussion.

Working With Jaouad's Health Was Beyond Delicate

First, it must be said: by Batiste's telling, Jaouad is "doing great" today — in fact, she had to miss the event, as she had just headed to Costa Rica. (In a sweet moment at night's end, Heineman pointed his phone at the audience for a mass shout-out: "We love you, Suleika!")

But when the author was in the throes of her rediagnosis, nothing was certain — and given the pandemic was still in full swing, every precaution had to be taken. "After the bone marrow transplant, she didn't have an immune system," Heineman said. "If she got a cold, she could have died."

As such, "It was very complicated from a producing point of view to navigate the puzzle of Jon's insane life, and then trying to find our way into the hospital, and then back out again, and back in again."

But they pulled it off, in the most concise way possible — which, given the unbelievable amount of footage they got, is something of a miracle.

1,500 Hours Were Filmed For American Symphony

As this writer came across Batiste in various situations, over the last couple of years — including in Las Vegas around the 2022 GRAMMYs, and the American Symphony premiere — a camera crew conspicuously trailed him everywhere he went.

Clearly, it was for something down the pike. And that something accrued an unbelievable 1,500 hours of footage — about 62 straight days. This could have resulted in a nine-hour bonanza, like The Beatles: Get Back. Or even an entire television series.

But to Heineman's credit, he resisted going maximal, and opted for a fundamentally quiet story. In fact, in the lynchpin scene of the film, no words are said at all.

About That Scene…

American Symphony arguably hinges on this scene: Batiste sits alone onstage, at the piano, before a smallish audience. He dedicates his next piece to Jaouad. And then he sits silently for 95 seconds; his microexpressions, breath and hands are poetry. Finally, the notes come.

"It's so easy in documentaries… forcing an essay, or an idea, through dialogue, through words, through voiceover, or through talking heads, or whatever," Heineman said. "[I wanted to] hold that space to allow you all to interpret that moment in your own way."

As Batiste clarified, the concert in question was a totally extemporaneous affair, where Batiste played whatever his antenna picked up.

"There'd be moments where I would even sometimes get up from the piano and leave until something came," he recalls. "And it felt like at that moment, there was a prayer that really needed to be specified and spoken out."

When The Power Went Out At Carnegie, Adrenaline Shot Through The Roof

Another of the most powerful scenes in American Symphony is during the titular performance itself — and, naturally, it's also of Batiste playing piano.

Although it was inconspicuous to the audience during the symphony's world premiere, panic had set in at one point: the power had gone out onstage, rendering the microphones and electronics dead.

Right then, he pauses and spins a melody out of the air, reflecting and refracting sad and sweet footage of their couplehood, which plays out onscreen.

"If you could see my blood pressure spike in the control room," Domino said. Of co-producer Joedan Okun: "We're sitting next to each other, and we're like, 'This is what we have anxiety dreams about, and now it's happening.' This guy is used to shooting in war zones. Jon is a genius, and they're just cool as cucumbers."

Suffice to say, when it turned out their 13 cameras didn't kill the power, the relief was unimaginable. And as Okun correctly observed in the moment, "This is a cinematic wonder."

The Ending Was Almost Much Different

True to Heineman's facility for smiting darlings in the editing stage, he was unafraid to completely change the ending at the eleventh hour — even though that version was, by all accounts, tremendous.

"Jon did his encore, which is what happened in real life… this beautiful rendition of the national anthem," Heineman said. "But it just felt like we weren't paying attention to the rest of the film that we had just made, and we didn't feel the two of them together."

"So, I guess I wanted to have my cake and eat it too," he continued. "To have the culmination of American Symphony, but also the symphony of life that we witnessed over the past year, come together with the two of them walking forward."

Right then, against a velveteen, winter sky, Batiste and Jaouad walk together into the future. Regarding both symphonies, personal and musical, together as one: Bravo.

Here's What Went Down At The World Premiere Of Jon Batiste's American Symphony At Carnegie Hall