MUSIC’S RESTORATIVE ROLE: To open the coming season of Princeton University Concerts’ Healing with Music series, musician Jon Batiste and author Suleika Jaouad will talk about how his music helped her cope during her hospitalization for leukemia.
By Anne Levin
When Princeton University Concerts (PUC) approached songwriter/composer/bandleader Jon Batiste and his wife, author/artist Suleika Jaouad, about opening the coming season’s Healing with Music series, “it was definitely a ‘cross your fingers’ moment,” said PUC Director Marna Seltzer. “And it was a complete jaw-drop when they said yes.”
The couple will appear on Wednesday, November 15 at Richardson Auditorium. Batiste, 36, is known for his work as a pianist, singer, and television personality who played with his band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from 2015-2022. Jaouad, 34, wrote the best-seller Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, and an interactive New York Times column about her experiences dealing with a rare form of leukemia, diagnosed just after she graduated from Princeton University in 2010. They met at band camp when he was 15 and she was 13, and married last year, the day before she underwent a bone marrow transplant.
“This is a huge deal. But it’s also a cooperative deal,” said Seltzer about snagging the couple for the series. “This is not a Jon Batiste concert. It’s an event focused on the two of them and the experience they have had in healing with music.”
Jaouad played bass in the Princeton University Orchestra. “She is someone we’ve been interested in having on the series since we started (last September),” Seltzer said. “Her book is devastating, but it’s also inspirational. She is now an expert in healing and bringing communities together. She’s so artistic, a painter as well as a writer. We wanted to highlight her story. And of course, we knew she was married to Jon Batiste.”
Batiste is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he now serves on the board. He was recently appointed by President Biden to the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Humanities. “We knew he was committed to arts education, and of course he gets a huge exposure to classical music through his work at Juilliard,” Seltzer said.
The couple’s story is a natural fit for launching the next season of the PUC series. “We have considered and talked a lot about the effect of a major health crisis on caregivers or family members, as well as the person going through the crisis,” Seltzer added. “Of all the stories we’ve highlighted, this one is the most dramatic. I think he has played a huge role in her healing. I’ve seen it quoted in other places that when she has been in the hospital for long stretches, he has found ways to make music in the hospital, and has talked about what a music-less place a hospital is. There are amazing descriptions of him going in and playing for patients. He brought his band to visit the oncology ward.”
The focus of the couple’s appearance will be on their relationship, and the effect music has had on her recovery. “This is part of their life’s work,” said Seltzer. “It’s not just a thing they’re going through. I think they said yes to us because this is near and dear to their life’s work.”
Seltzer is hoping the appearance will lead to a continuing relationship with the couple. “I think there is a deep well of things we can continue to do together,” she said. “I think this type of event just resonated with them. It’s something they care about. It’s not a commercial event, which a lot of his events are.”
The concert is currently available through subscription packages, or for Princeton University Student Early Bird Ticket buyers. Visit concerts.princeton.edu.