Kurt Elling performs on Jimmy Greene’s “Beautiful Life,” celebrating the life of his daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene
Saxophonist Jimmy Greene's new release, Beautiful Life on Mack Avenue Records, is a celebration of the life of his 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, whose life was tragically taken, along with 19 other children and 6 educators, on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Greene said that he wants “the music to reflect the way that Ana lived,” so for the first time he decided to weave lyrics and singers into the flow on one of his recordings.
“Ana loved to sing and listen to singers, and had a wonderful singing voice,” he explains. “So an album dedicated to her memory needed to have singers and songs that were important to her and me and my family.”
In a penetrating, heartbreaking, and graceful interpretation, Kurt Elling performs “Ana's Way,” along with the Linden Christian School Early Years Choir, comprised of Ana's & her brother Isaiah's former classmates from Winnipeg.
“It was brutal seeing Ana's friends again, without Ana there amongst them,” Greene says. “But we got through it somehow, and I think the results are very touching.”
“I was humbled and grateful to be asked to be a part of this important project. I have known Jimmy as a well-respected musician for several years, but his example as a man of faith and personal strength is what takes center stage here. The healing nature of music has only rarely been brought to bear more clearly in a jazz context. I sincerely encourage all my friends and fans to join me in supporting Beautiful Life.”
Said Jimmy, “Kurt's amazing talent and huge heart are such a big part of the success of the recording.”
“In the days after my daughter was killed, playing and writing music wasn't even a thought,” the 39-year-old saxophonist says. “I was very much in shock, grieving deeply and trying to just function coherently. Family and friends surrounded us and held us up, and we received 10,000 communications — emails, texts, Facebook messages, voice calls, letters — from people around the world.
The community of musicians was front and center for that support. When I called, they responded, 'Whatever you need, just say the word, and I'll be there.'”
Beautiful Life opens with a recording of Ana singing the traditional “Saludos” (“Greetings”) at a Christmas celebration (parranda) in Puerto Rico with her mother Nelba Márquez-Greene's family — and her father playing in the background — a year before her death. Greene segues to a section in which he and guitarist Pat Metheny perform “Come Thou Almighty King” before concluding with another family recording of Ana singing the hymn to her brother Isaiah's piano accompaniment.
The wistful “Last Summer,” a quartet feature, evokes Greene's impressions of the photograph of his children — captured from the rear with their arms around each other's shoulders in the family's backyard in Winnipeg, Canada, where Greene taught at the University of Manitoba between 2009 and 2012 — that appears on the cover of Beautiful Life.
The mellow tenor voice of Javier Colon, Greene's one-time classmate at the Hartt School of Music, delivers Greene's lyric for “When I Come Home” supported by the quartet, Greene's signifying tenor saxophone, and the strings.
Next is Kurt performance of “Ana's Way,” along with the Linden Christian School Early Years Choir, one of the featured vocal tracks on the album. Greene and pianist Renee Rosnes distill the oceanic emotions of the lyric.
Pianist Kenny Barron joins Greene for conversational readings of the Broadway songs “Where Is Love?” from Oliver and “Maybe” from Annie, the latter featuring Greene's pure-toned soprano saxophone. “Kenny, Christian [McBride] and Lewis [Nash] were the rhythm section for the 1996 Thelonious Monk Competition, where I was named first runner-up,” Greene recalls. “They made me feel welcomed and comfortable, that I could do this for my life, and so I wanted them involved.”
“My daughter loved Annie, and would sing 'Maybe' a cappella with great pitch and rhythm in the back of the car when we were driving around,” Greene recalls. He includes “Where Is Love?” in homage to Jackie McLean, his primary musical mentor, who showed Greene (then 15) the melody at their first meeting at Hartford's Artists Collective.
The penultimate track of Beautiful Life, titled “Prayer,” is Greene's musical setting of the text of the “Lord's Prayer.” Cyrus Chestnut accompanies Greene's devotional tenor saxophone; illuminating the message is Latanya Farrell (whom Greene met while attending Hartt), whose powerful contralto enchanted Ana as a toddler.
Ana became a fan of Anika Noni Rose — a high school classmate of Greene's in Bloomfield, Connecticut — after hearing her inhabit the role of Princess Tiana in the animated film The Princess and the Frog. Rose's recitation of Greene's optimistic soliloquy “Little Voices” precedes another appearance by the Linden Children's Choir.
“Many people have asked what they can do to help, and this is my answer,” Greene says.
“Let's remember what happened at Sandy Hook. We can each hold up our end of the bargain, which is to somehow learn to love ourselves, and then see past ourselves and love our neighbor. That's pretty simple, but if we all did it, I think our existence would be different.
“The last lyrics you hear on the album are 'Remember me, remember me,' over and over again,” says Greene. “I want Ana to be remembered. I want what happened here to be remembered so that we do something.”
Jimmy Greene talked with Craig Lemoult about Ana and recording Beautiful Life on NPR's All Things Considered. Listen here.
A portion of the proceeds from Beautiful Life will be donated to the following charities in Ana's name:
The Ana Grace Project of Klingberg Family Centers – initiated by Greene's wife Nelba, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, to promote love, community and connection for every child and family through partnerships with schools, mental health providers, community organizations and faith leaders.
The Artists Collective – where generations of children and families in Greater Hartford have gained access to world-class training in the arts.