Photos of Elisabeth Welker grace the liner notes of Peter Welker’s new CD "Paradise is Awfully Nice." In a tribute to his mother, he writes: "You were an inspiration your entire life to many people world-wide both through your music and how you lived life. Many people of the people who worked on this CD were dear friends of yours and were touched deeply by you! I hope that this music has captured your beautiful spirit and love. Thank you for your gift of music.... " Elisabeth Welker was born blind. In 1935, at the age of 19, she was singing on a national radio show called "The Camel Caravan." She later taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and developed a Braille jazz course that defined the way jazz was taught to blind musicians. In 1999, she died. Her last words were: "Paradise is awfully nice."
These four words were the source of a brief brass choir to the heavens. ‘Paradise is awfully nice’ is a mournful, elegant, loving, articulate dirge. This requiem gives way to a series on tunes premised on 1930s era-like big band pop and sizzle. There is no rest for the weary. There is no reason to hang one’s head. ‘Sweet George’ (a riff from ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’) swings in all its glory. This is full-throttle dance music that with crazy dueling between Ernie Watts and Jon Crosse both on tenor sax and a wild solo by drummer George Marsh. Strayhorn’s ‘Chelsea Bridge’ is simply gorgeous; David Grisman on a mandolin solo provides a uniquely melancholic and wistful flavor to this classic composition. Strains of Strayhorn is heard again on ‘A Flower is a Lovesome Thing’ which is introduced eloquently by Herb Pomeroy on trumpet as the band takes it turn on the sentimental melody and then it hands it back to extended solos by Pomeroy and Welker on trumpets and Bennett Friedman on alto sax. The closing track is Ellignton’s ‘Come Sunday’ featuring a reflective and reverential conversation between Welker on piano and Norton Buffalo on harmonica.
"Paradise" is thematically the music of Elisabeth Welker’s grand hurrah and played lovingly and masterfully by her son and a lot of their friends. It is a first-rate tribute, much like Ellington’s homage to Strayhorn. It is a glorious testimony to Elisabeth’s faith in the power of music.