When this year’s Grammy nominations were announced, John Batiste heard his name 11 times –, Eight nominations were for their album “We Are” and three were for their work on the soundtrack to the film “Soul”.
Correspondent Jim Axelrod said, “They just kept calling your name.”
“I was really floored every time,” Batiste said.
“We Are” displays this exceptional range, from its terrifying New Orleans roots, heard on the track “Freedom,” Don’t Dare You Dance:
… Classical-Jazz Hybrid “Movement 11.”
Axelrod asked, “You said, ‘God has given us 12 notes.’ What did you do with those 12 notes from these two albums that are responsible for such praise?”
“I’ve always thought that you have sound, and sound represents something,” Batiste said. “Music is always talking to you. If you’re listening, it’s telling you what to do. No, ‘What did I do with that?’ It’s, ‘What did this tell me to do?'”
Most famous for his day job, the bandleader of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Batiste is no longer anyone’s wingman. This is his moment. “What year is it!” Axelrod said.
“Yes indeed! Amen!”
But if you’re thinking that things can’t get better for Batiste, don’t. “One thing I’ve learned from this time is that it can all go away,” he said. “Things can change very quickly. From one day to the next, your world may be turned upside down.”
On the eve of his 35th birthday, eight days before the nomination, the love of his life, writer Suleka Joud, was shattered.
When she was launching her bestseller “Between Two States,” a wise and moving meditation on healing from the leukemia that plagued her life in her 20s.
In February 2021 Axelrod asked Joud, “Have you recovered?”
“To say that I am healed would imply that there is an endpoint,” he replied.
What a prediction it turned out to be.
Asked TODAY how she is, Joud said, “A lot has changed in a year. Not only was my leukemia back, but it was far more aggressive than it was a decade ago.”
The biggest day of the eventual downfall of Batiste’s professional life was Joud’s first day of chemo in his second battle with cancer.
“We’re sitting in this chemo suit together,” she said, “and these calls of congratulations are coming. And we have to hold onto these two realities.”
Their world was shaking, but Batiste and Joud were determined to find their balance.
“It’s totally holding, you know, terrifying, heartbreaking, painful things and beautiful, soulful things in the palm of one hand,” Joud said. “And it’s hard to do that, but you have to do it, because otherwise the sadness takes over.”
Which brings us to this past February, and his idea of how to meet his harsh reality.
“We’re married,” laughed Joud. “We’ve been married in secret until this very moment. We had this small, pretty, little ceremony. We didn’t have wedding bands, we used braid ties.”
Web Exclusive: Jon Batiste and Suleika Joud on their secret wedding
For eight years, the night before her bone marrow transplant gave her the perfect time to make it official.
Batiste said, “Well, it happened, but it won’t disrupt our plan. It’s just a bump in the road.”
“And something like getting married can be an act of optimism, an act of proclamation, an act of ‘We have a future,'” Axelrod said.
“Yeah. It’s an act of defiance. The darkness will try to overpower you, but just turn on the light. Focus on the light. Catch the light.”
Web Exclusive: Suleka Joud on the Importance of Bone Marrow Registry
But married or not, Omicron meant that Batiste could not live with Joud after the transplant. She was alone, afraid to keep only her company.
She said, “A kind of hollow agony quiet moment in the hospital where you suddenly sit with yourself and sit with what’s happening to you–“
“Complete isolation. And I expressed something to John to that effect. And the next thing I know, I see him hump on his computer. And half an hour later, he starts playing this lullaby. And Every single day after that, he wrote me a new lullaby. And it was like he was sleeping right there by my bed.”
“He had a therapeutic property for music,” Batiste said.
“That you wrote only for him, to provide support and strength?” asked Axelrod.
“Yeah, absolutely. And to fill the room with these healing properties. To me, that’s my way. Everyone’s going to have their own way, you know, but look for that. Focus on that. Those things.” Pay attention. Find those things.”
They’re both now discovering those things – relying on their best to face the worst.
“Finding some form of creative expression to express what seems impossible, expressing the unbearable has been so important,” said Joud.
Her focus is on the serious (painting self-portraits depicting her healing), and the eccentric (the walker she uses now at age 33). “So now, instead of looking at this walker and feeling a sense of dread, it makes me happy,” she said.
As for Batiste, the “American Symphony” he debuted at Carnegie Hall the following month, his work reflects the tension between America’s ideals and its realities—our bright day, and our dark, dark night.
“Night, it evokes a mantra-like quality,” he said, followed by day, “a feeling of victory, victory over adversity.”
One theme that captures the full sweep of the lives of John Battist and Suleka Joud right now is the swirl between triumph and adversity.
“And that’s what you’re living now,” said Axelrod, “the glow of this professional, the darkness of all these achievements and struggles?”
“Yes,” said Batiste. “That’s life, man. That’s it. Strap in!”
Read an excerpt: “Between Two Kingdoms” by Suleka Jodi
You can stream John Batiste’s album “We Are” by clicking the embed below (free Spotify registration is required to listen to the track in full):
for more information:
- “it is us” by John Batiste (Verve Records)
- “American Symphony” by John Battist, premiering May 7 at Carnegie Hall, New York
- Follow John Batiste Twitter, instagram, Facebook And youtube
- “Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted” By Suleka Joud (Random House), in hardcover, trade paperback, eBook and audio formats, Available through heroine And indiebound
- Suleka Joud’s “Life, Interrupted” column in The New York Times
- Follow Suleka Joud Twitter, Facebook And instagram
Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Mike Levine.
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