A father remembers his daughter in music

Right after the shootings in Newtown, CT, I was listening to “Eric in the Evening”, the local jazz program on Boston’s WGBH public radio.  Eric Jackson, the host, said he was going to play some Jimmy Greene.  He explained that he had heard that Greene’s daughter, Ana, was among the victims.  So this story in the New York Times caught my eye.

Before last Dec. 14, Jimmy Greene had been a jazzman for most of his 38 years, well known among serious jazz fans. He had dozens of albums to his name. He played with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard. He was a scholar, too, teaching jazz at a public university.

On Dec. 14, Mr. Greene’s 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, who shared his passion for music and loved to listen to her father play, was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That was the day a gunman killed Ana along with 19 other children and 6 educators.

Weeks after the massacre, he slowly began accepting invitations to play publicly, as long as the performances were close to his Connecticut home. He returned to Western Connecticut State University, where he teaches jazz.

Slowly, Mr. Greene said, the spirit of Ana’s “beautiful life” began comforting and inspiring him to begin writing music again. Then there were the many musician friends, like Harry Connick Jr., who helped console him. One result is a new album called, appropriately, “Beautiful Life,” a work inspired by and dedicated to Ana’s life.

“I want it to give a sense of how she lived,” said Mr. Greene, who recently performed some of the music from the album at a jazz club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The nearly completed album, whose proceeds will go partly toward charities set up in Ana’s name, exemplifies a decision by the family not to let the pain of Ana’s death keep them from discussing her life, he said.

“It’s a way for us to keep Ana alive, and keep her on the tip of our tongues,” he said. “I don’t want to avoid talking about it because one problem we have in our culture is that if something is difficult, we don’t talk about it.”

I found this link to a YouTube tune called “Ana Grace” written before Ana was killed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVkVYJUsuDM

Ana loved to dance joyfully around the house and she loved Disney movies, including “The Princess and the Frog,” whose dark-skinned Princess Tiana appealed to her.

Mr. Greene asked the singer Anika Noni Rose, a childhood friend who was the voice of the princess in the film, to recite spoken word on his song “Little Voices” on the new album, which also features Kurt Elling, a Grammy Award winner, performing on “Ana’s Way,” and Javier Colon on “When I Come Home.”

The recording also includes a duet by Mr. Greene and the guitarist Pat Metheny of the hymn “Come Thou Almighty King,” which Ana liked to sing while her older brother accompanied her on the piano.

Ana Márquez-Greene

Ana Márquez-Greene

Greene performed songs from the album recently at the New York jazz club Smoke.

On the morning of the shooting, he was teaching and got a call from his wife — both are Hartford natives who have been together since high school — and he raced home preparing himself for anything. Many friends and relatives rushed to his house, including Mr. Connick, whose band Mr. Green was a member of for a long time. Mr. Connick later wrote a song called “Love Wins” for Ana and recorded it with Mr. Greene.

The horror that unfolded, Mr. Greene said, “has changed me as a human and you reflect that humanity in your art.”

“It shapes you as an artist when you lose something so precious,” he said on a recent Friday night between sets at Smoke jazz club in Manhattan. His band featured an all-star lineup of Renee Rosnes on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Jeff (Tain) Watts on drums.

Between songs, Mr. Greene thanked the audience for their prayers and condolences, which help him keep “strengthening day by day,” he said. The audience applauded after he talked about what happened last December and urged the audience to “show your love for each other often.”

“With that in mind,” he said, the next song would be Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” whose lyrics speak about those three words being hummed by the April breeze, echoed by the hills and seconded by the dawn.

This sounds like a wonderful tribute to a beautiful child.

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