Newtown, CT, USA
Student, Sandy Hook Elementary School
12/14/2012, Newtown, CT, USA
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. Ana Márquez-Greene shared her father’s love of music.
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.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever feel whole again,” Mr. Greene said of his family, Nelba Márquez-Greene, his wife, and their son, Isaiah, 9, who was also in the school that morning but was unharmed. “I still cry every day — we all do. I don’t know if there’s a day when we won’t.”
It was a month or so before Mr. Greene could even pick up his saxophone. But eventually he did. And it is his music that has pushed him back onto the stage, back inside a recording studio and back into the spotlight as a top-tier jazzman. “Music has been a wonderful outlet for me, emotionally and spiritually,” Mr. Greene said.
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.”
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. “When she turned 7, she was going to start, too,” taking piano lessons, Mr. Greene said.
“The goal is the reflection and celebration of Ana’s beautiful life, and how all lives are precious and beautiful,” said Mr. Greene, who moved with his family to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2009 to take a teaching position at the University of Manitoba before settling in Newtown in the summer of 2012. (Nelba Márquez-Greene is a family and marriage therapist.)
In Winnipeg, Ana sang in her school choir, and when Mr. Greene wrote choral parts for several songs on the new album, he chose the same children’s choir there to sing in Ana’s memory.
“I wanted it to be sung by kids who knew my daughter,” said Mr. Greene, who said he was overwhelmed when he flew to Winnipeg to hear the children perform the parts and several of Ana’s friends in the choir rushed over, hugged him and told him they missed Ana. When they sang, he added, “I didn’t think I could stay in the room.”