After his 6-year-old daughter was killed in the Newtown school shooting, Jimmy Greene found a homemade book on her desk titled “Ana’s flower book for Dad.” The book was filled with page after page of beautifully drawn flowers in different colors and shapes.
“It’s a brutal reminder of what I lost,” Greene said. “There’s very few people I think in life who love you unconditionally. She was one of them. We lost her.”
While the world knows how Ana Grace Marquez-Greene died, Greene wants the public to know how his daughter lived. Greene, an internationally renowned jazz saxophonist, composer and bandleader, is preparing an album called Beautiful Life, inspired by and dedicated to his daughter, which he hopes to release before the end of the year.
He likely will play a few songs from it on Sunday at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen. “She had qualities in her that were very well beyond her years,” Greene said. “She would sort of sense when somebody needed a word of encouragement or a hug or a little piece of kindness. She would do it without being prompted or without someone asking for it.” Ana was known to leave notes, such as one telling her parents to look under their pillow. That led to another note reading: “I love you Mom and Dad.”
Ana liked to sing and dance, and her father’s new record will include her singing the hymn “Come Thou Almighty King” while her brother plays on the piano months before she was killed. Her classmates from Canada, where the family lived for a few years, also sing, and Greene sings about his hope to one day join her in heaven.
That faith that Ana is in heaven is what sustains Greene and his wife, Nelba Marquez-Greene. “That is pretty much the only thing that gives us peace and any sort of comfort at all,” Greene said.
Proceeds from the album will go toward the Ana Grace Project, which works to prevent violence, and The Artists Collective, which exposes children to the arts and, Greene says, played a key role in his career. Greene has played at the Litchfield Jazz Festival for years.
“For him, I think it will be a homecoming to be surrounded by people who love him and appreciate his music and what his family went through,” said Lindsey Turner, spokeswoman for the nonprofit that runs the festival. “I think it will be a really nice chance for him to share his pain through this music with people who love him.”
Ana was one of 20 first-graders and six adults killed in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The pain is as profound as it was 19 months ago, Greene said. “Every day is a struggle,” he said, while noting that the outpouring of support from family, friends and fellow musicians has helped.
Greene, an assistant professor at Western Connecticut State University, has released a series of critically acclaimed albums and received numerous honors. He has played with Harry Connick Jr., who wrote a song in honor of Ana called “Love Wins.”
Greene said his new album has less emphasis on pushing the envelope musically or technically on the saxophone and is more about the lyrics and conveying emotion. He said his daughter’s death made him realize that life is precious and fleeting.
“I know I’m forever changed as a person,” Greene said. “I don’t remember what normal feels like. I don’t even know if there is a normal anymore.”
Written by John Christoffersen