Back in 1833, British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, in dealing with the untimely death of his great friend Arthur Henry Hallam, wrote one of greatest poems in the English language: In Memoriam. Faced with the idea that critics might find the idea of writing poetry when one was grief stricken to be off-putting, to say the least, he considered their criticism. He understood their objection, and he had an explanation. In practicing his art, the thing he was best at, working his work as it was given to him, there was a relief:
. . . for the unquiet heart and brain
A use in measured language lies
The sad mechanic exercise
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
There may be nothing so tragic as the loss of a child. And if in dealing with tragedy a poet turns to his poetry, it is no shock that in like circumstances, a musician would turn to his music. Like the poet, he sings because he must. Saxophonist Jimmy Greene lost his daughter Ana on December 14, 2012 in the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. His album, Beautiful Life, which was released in November, is his In Memoriam. It celebrates the life of his daughter and honors those who died with her. It is a musical expression of the artist’s faith in the healing power of music.
Greene has put together a 10-song set that moves from instrumental jazz to show tunes, from spirituals to faith-based Christian music. He is backed by a top-flight rhythm section featuring pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Lewis Nash, plus a flock of guest artists on individual tracks.
Guitarist Pat Metheny joins in on the initial number, “Saludos/Come Thou Almighty King,” which opens and closes with some heartbreaking recordings of daughter Ana singing. Other vocalists on the project include Javier Colon singing Greene’s lyric for “When I Come Home,” Latanya Farrell working on “Prayer,” a setting of the Lord’s Prayer which also includes pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and Kurt Elling singing “Ana’s Way” along with the Linden Christian Early Years Choir which includes classmates of Ana.
The basic quartet works out a pensive “Last Summer” and “Seventh Candle,” and he and pianist Kenny Barron get together for “Where Is The Love” from Oliver and “Maybe” from Annie. The album concludes with a spoken word performance of Greene’s “Little Voices.”
Beautiful Life is an emotionally charged musical celebration of a life too soon lost. It is the kind of album you can’t help but appreciate, while you can’t help praying there will never need to be another like it.
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