Beautiful and bittersweet
Jazz musician Jimmy Greene has mixed emotions about Grammy nominations
SAXOPHONIST Jimmy Greene and his family spent only three years in Winnipeg, but their link to the city is forever etched in his record,
Beautiful Life, which received two Grammy Award nominations earlier this week.
The album is a tribute to his six-year-old daughter, Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, who was slain during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in December 2012. It includes the voices of Ana’s classmates at Linden Christian School, which she and her older brother, Isaiah, attended when they lived in Winnipeg.
Greene, who is a professor at Western Connecticut State University, where he also co-ordinates the jazz studies program, was formerly a jazz professor at the University of Manitoba; the family moved to Connecticut the summer before the tragedy.
Linden Christian School’s Early Years Choir is featured on two songs:
Ana’s Way, a collaboration with Greene and jazz vocalist Kurt Elling; and the record’s final song, Little Voices.
The choir recorded its parts with Greene at the school in the summer of 2014. It was a challenging, sorrowful situation for everyone involved, Greene recalled in an email interview with the Free Press earlier this week.
“To be honest, there were moments during the LCS choir recording session that were almost unbearably difficult,” Greene said. “It was the first time I had seen some of the children and their families since Ana’s murder. It was difficult at times to experience the kids’ emotions, too — they really missed their friend.
The heightened emotions during the recording session may have contributed to the power of Beautiful Life, which was rewarded on Monday with nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Arrangement, Instrument and Vocals.
“The impact that the kids had upon the album is tremendous,” Greene said. “It meant so much to have the children who knew and loved Ana the most singing lyrics I wrote about her.”
Greene also gave credit to Linden Christian music director Brenda Johnson, principal Rob Charach and others involved with organizing the rehearsals.
Ana’s voice can also be heard on the record. For the opening track,
Saludos/Come Thou Almighty King, Greene incorporated a home recording of her singing along with Isaiah’s piano.
“I specifically wanted the song containing her beautiful voice to be the first song heard — a voice that will be heard for eternity in heaven, and one I felt should be heard here on Earth, as well,” he said.
Beautiful Life is Greene’s 10th album as a bandleader. He said he has mixed emotions about the record’s success.
“It is quite humbling and quite an amazing honour to be nominated for two Grammy Awards this year, but also quite bittersweet — I wish this album never had to be made in the first place,” he said.
It wasn’t until Greene worked on the final mix of Beautiful Life that he thought about the record’s emotional impact for fans of jazz.
“When I went back and listened to the tracks with fresh ears, I realized that the story told by the 10 songs on the album was quite meaningful,” Greene wrote in his email. “I expected the album to resonate with people, but I am still humbled by the overwhelming support it has been shown.”
Greene made the album with the assistance of Norman and David Chesky of Chesky Records, who helped fund and produce the project.
“It wouldn’t have happened without them, and they sought no profit from this at all. They gave me complete ownership of the masters they paid for,” Greene told The Associated Press earlier this week. “It’s an amazing gift they gave.”
A portion of the proceeds from Beautiful Life will benefit two organizations: the Artists Collective, where Greene studied and taught, and the Ana Grace Project, founded by his wife, Nelba Marquez-Greene, a marriage and family therapist.
“(We’re) trying to promote empathy and compassion in young kids to hopefully prevent these instances of gun violence like the one that took my daughter’s life,” he said of the Ana Grace Project.
The Grammys will be handed out in Los Angeles on Feb. 15.
Saxophonist Jimmy Greene with his late daughter, Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, who inspired his Grammy-nominated album Beautiful Life. Greene lived in Winnipeg with his family for three years.