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The Green Spring Suite
A jazz pianist and former patient pays tribute to his caregivers with an original composition

Jack Reilly in performance in the Weinberg ceremonial lobby as part of the Art of Healing series. (Photo credit: Peter Tully Owen.)

In 2002, when Jack Reilly completed his cancer treatments at Johns Hopkins, he knew that no mere letter of thanks, gift to the staff or monetary contribution would be enough to properly express his gratitude. Instead, Reilly composed a piece of music in 12 sections, each dedicated to a person who helped him through his ordeal, including eight on his medical team. On April 6, he performed that composition, “The Green Spring Suite,” in the Weinberg ceremonial lobby.

Reilly’s East Baltimore appearance was part of the popular Art of Healing Performing Arts series, which since 2001 has featured vocalists, musicians, dancers and others in Weinberg’s soaring atrium space. The monthly series seeks to offer, through the performing arts, a respite to patients, families and staff.

“Each Art of Healing concert has been an inspiring experience for our audiences,” says Pierre Gantt, the Cancer Center’s senior public affairs coordinator who launched the series and who is also a musician. “But every once in a while, we stumble onto something really special. Jack Reilly’s ‘Green Spring Suite’ is a colorful, multilayered, 12-movement composition which offers a glimpse into his personal journey. It is a testament to the grounding and transformative power of the arts.”

Before Reilly’s performance, Gantt sat down for an interview with the 72-year-old jazz pianist and composer from New Jersey whose rich career spans nearly 50 years, beginning with his appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and includes performances throughout the United States and abroad, recordings and books on jazz. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

—Anne Bennett Swingle

When did you decide to make music a career?

When I was young, jazz was the popular music of the day so as a steady diet, I heard the great big-bands of Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and others, plus the small innovative groups of Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. It was the music of Tristano that really awakened in me the desire to search for a musical voice of my own, and I began the long road to mastering the piano, jazz improvisation and composition.

What do you like about performing?

Performing on stage or in a club is magic for me. It’s like entering a higher level of consciousness, something akin to nirvana.

Did your experience with cancer influence your career and creativity?

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2002 and given a 33 percent chance of survival when it was discovered that I had three tumors, two of which were very high on the Gleason scale. I completed eight weeks of radiation by Nov. 9, 2002, at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Green Spring Station.

During that time, I continued to compose music and found a place to practice piano three to four hours a day. My wife of 36 years, Carol Lian, who is also a pianist, discovered the Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church in Lutherville, where she could practice and where we started to attend Sunday services. The entire congregation began to pray for me. I also met Andy Fields, a Baltimore jazz pianist, who invited me to sit in at the club where he was playing.

How did you come to compose “The Green Spring Suite”?

The suite is in 12 sections, each dedicated to one of the individuals who helped me. Eight were on my team: radiologists Marsha Greenberg, Dexter Wilson, Tammy Atkins and Mary Ellen Holland-Callender; my oncologist Maria Jacobs; physician Gopal Bajaj; nurse Linda Gallagher; and receptionist Louise Dickerson. Andy Fields, recording engineer Phil Warfield, my wife and all the church members are the others. I refer to these individuals as messengers sent by God, with each bringing their special gifts or offerings to help me through the eight weeks.

My treatment represents the marriage of science, prayer and music. The radiation represents the love of God flowing into my body. Prayer represents the word of God lifting my spirits and dispelling all negative thoughts. Music represents the soul of the universe speaking through me and feeding me this music.

I believe music is capable of healing physical and mental disease, and it can teach us to love one another. Its power has yet to be tapped to the fullest. This performance is the best way I know how to say thank you.

—Pierre F. Gantt




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