What is it about the wisdom and innocence of a child’s words that can penetrate our deepest fears and hard-won pessimism to break our hearts through to enduring sunlight and shards of hope? Despite her and her family’s ordeal, Anne Frank famously said, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideas, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” What does this have to do with contemporary jazz?
Thanks to multi-talented vocalist and songwriter Dana Sandler, quite a glorious, timely and inspirational lot. On her all at once terribly sad, occasionally gut wrenching but ultimately sweet, joyful and hopeful collection I Never Saw Another Butterfly, she gives musical wing to thoughtful poems penned by the Jewish children in the Terezin concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Along with artwork, these verses were compiled into the 1959 book of the same title.
A classically trained pianist, Sandler first encountered the volume while attending the New England Conservatory of Music – and it stuck with and haunted her throughout her multi-faceted professional career as a performer and member of a Klezmer group and even after she switched gears and became a medical professional. Joining musical forces with a handful of world- renowned musicians she knew at the Conservatory, including Dee Dee Bridgewater’s pianist Carmen Staaf, Sandler’s return to her original passion is deeply profound and infused with beautiful, often lively and rhythmically swinging melodies.
Yet as wondrous and pin-drop perfect as her vocals are, as stunning as Staaf’s and bassist Jorge Roeder’s solos are, they are merely contemporary creative gateways to a past where children wrote profound and often metaphorical words of despair, longing and hope during the darkest time in recent human history. Forging an added dimension bridging past and present, one of the core pieces, the meditative ballad “Home/This Old House,” concludes with Sandler’s young daughter singing.
Set for release on April 21 (Yom HaSoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day), I Never Saw Another Butterfly delivers on so many levels of the heart and soul it’s hard to quantify or absorb in a single sitting. In the end, it’s simply wonderful to know that Anne Frank wasn’t the only one chronicling the young generation’s perspective. Thanks to Sandler, we have long overlooked poems and some divinely inspired music to cherish and reflect on.