Release Date | 10.12.2018
About “After Us”
“After Us” was recorded on January 26th and 27th, 2019, a month to the day before my father died. A lot of the music I wrote for this album deals with death and dying, how we see ourselves in these moments and how we move on. Jon and I also recorded two of his compositions because I love them. When we recorded there just happened to be some songs about death on the record, but the death of my father reframed everything for me. To read that full story, just scroll down. I’m sharing it here because it feels important. Reading others stories around these topics helped me immensely.
Jon and I weave a rich musical tapestry with inspiration from both of our diverse musical backgrounds. We have been playing in this paired down duo setting around New York City since 2014, exploring the space that opens up when instruments are stripped away. We play originals and arrangements of standards and have performed at The Blue Note Jazz Club, Rockwood Music Hall, Cafe Vivaldi and more.
The Kentucky-born, New Orleans-schooled, New York-based pianist Jon Cowherd is best known for his long-running partnership with drummer/bandleader Brian Blade, with whom he co-founded the Brian Blade Fellowship, The Fellowship’s highly acclaimed albums showcase Cowherd's stellar keyboard work and singular compositional skills. When not recording and touring with the Fellowship, Cowherd has worked extensively with a broad array of musicians from the jazz, pop and rock worlds.
On February 27th, 2018, my father passed away. Monday morning, February 26th, minutes after my piano tuner showed up, I got a call from the head doctor at Sahlgrenska in Gothenburg. The doctor was calling to tell me they had done everything they could for my dad, he was not conscious and only being kept alive through life support. The call was to get my permission, along with my brothers, to take him off life support. It was not a surprise, but that doesn’t make writing this any easier.
If you’ve heard someone tune a piano you’ll know it is not the most peaceful sound. In this moment it felt like every time he moved to a new out of tune string it ripped my heart open all over again. As soon as I got off the phone with the doctor I left the house, my husband Cody staying there with the tuner. I walked to the park a few blocks away and called my brothers. We spoke and all agreed to give the doctor the go ahead. I called my mom to let her know as well. My parents have been divorced for many years but they were good friends. She was out of cell phone range doing a 4 day bike odyssey with the Climate Ride in Death Valley so I left a message. I took great comfort in knowing she is in such good shape.
As I walked home to write the email a thought struck me. Kevin Salem and I had almost finished mixing this record. A lot of the music deals with the very vulnerable place of knowing this goodbye could very well be the last. Of dealing with living a continent away and not knowing if I should stay or go whenever something happened. Its been many years of something happening every few months, and each time it got harder. Capturing those feelings in music was my way to cope with them, and I felt such deep grief that he would never hear it. At this point the record was mixed, not sequenced and not mastered. There were some minor things that needed fixing. Other than that it was done. As I was thinking about dropping everything and flying to Sweden to be there when he died, it occurred to me that music cuts deeper in our consciousness than just about anything else. If he was already gone consciously, and there was no guarantee I would make it there in time, maybe my presence would be there in a more real way through the music.
As I walked in the door I made that decision. I had a few working sequences of the album sketched out and I listened through the one I thought was the truest. Because of the time restriction, I only listened heads and tails, not the full sequence like I usually do. When it felt true Cody put together a sequenced file for me that I sent to the doctor I had spoken with earlier. I asked him to play the album for my dad as he passed on. At this point the piano tuner had left, and hour later my first student showed up. I gave 6 lessons, went to a yoga class and had dinner and well, more than a few drinks, with a friend who’s mother passed away recently. Having her with me that night was amazing. There was something big and looming about this loss that night. Waiting for the email, and not knowing how I would react even if I was as well prepared as anyone can be. It turns out, I couldn’t homework my way out of the loss of my father. In sharing her experiences with me my friend brought me deep calm that was a huge help in getting through that first week.
After she left at around 2 am I tried to go to sleep, to no avail. 5.19 am I got the email from my aunt that they had started playing the record. 5.37 they turned off the machines. 9.39 he passed. They played this music the entire time.
It wasn’t easy to continue working on this record. For a week after his death I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it. I struggled with if I wanted to release it at all or just have it be my goodbye to him, privately. The second person to hear the album in its entirety was my mother. She came to stay with me for the weekend after his death instead of going home after her bike trip and having her with me was a huge comfort. We listened to the record together and she was very moved by it. Her words to me during the first song were “I know this cut straight to his soul, because it’s cutting straight to mine.” This moment brought the record back to life for me. The deeper I got into it the more I began to see the process of completing it as a gift. This wonderful community of artists helped me find a true expression of my grief, and my dad got to hear it. At the end of the day, he got to hear my farewell.
Flutes - Elsa Nilsson
Jon Cowherd - Piano
Composed by Elsa Nilsson and Jon Cowherd
Produced and mastered by Kevin Salem
A special thank you to Matthew Zisk for such an accommodating and intimate recording space.
“One of the most dynamic bandleaders in the New York jazz scene.”
- Nick Dunston, Hot House Jazz Magazine