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“She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
I once asked the late, Chuck Niles, a revered, long-time Jazz disc jockey on the Los Angeles FM airwaves, how he approached programming his radio show.
Chuck replied: “It’s simple really. Each hour I try to include something old, something new and something sung by either a vocal group or a vocalist.”
He went on to say, “Lately, I seem to be playing a lot of stuff by Abbey Lincoln.”
When I asked him why, he explained: “I missed her the first time around.”
For the most part, I did, too.
If Abbey hadn't been married to Max Roach for much of the 1960's, I might have missed her completely.
Max has always been a drummer that I idolized so I pretty much caught everything her recorded; Abbey sang on Max’s 1960 Freedom Now Suite [Oscar Brown wrote the lyrics] and that was my introduction to her. The date and the album title may bring to mind more about the social history of this period.
Over the years, I've caught a few other things by Abbey, but in thinking of Chuck Niles’ reference to Abbey, I realize that I really didn't know much about her music.
Richard Cook’s and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. is always a good place to start and so it was that the following annotations about Abbey Lincoln and her recordings helped make a “new beginning” for me in terms of an appreciation of her music.
“Abbey Lincoln worked as a singer in
under the name Anna Marie, then began recording for
Prestige. Recorded with Max Roach (her husband, 1962-70), but her career faded
in the 1970’s until a revival of interest in California Europe in the 1980’s led to a new and successful
contract with Verve. Now a matriarchal influence on a younger generation of
female vocalists. …
She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology. …
There has been a tension throughout Lincoln's years with Verve between letting her build a band of young, responsive players who can be molded to her idiosyncratic vision, and surrounding her with established stars on the label's roster. The 1994 album [A Turtle’s Dream Verve Gitanes 527382] is an almost perfect illustration of the point. One of the joys of the record, as with some of its predecessors, is flicking through and identifying one dream line-up after another - Metheny and house pianist Kendrick, or Metheny and Barron with Haden and Lewis - only to find that the saxophone solo you've just swooned to on 'A Turtle's Dream' or 'Not To Worry' is by the relatively unknown Lourau.
Like Betty Carter,
has always had the ability to bring on
young players. Like every great musician, she has the gift of making everyone
around her play better. … Lincoln
The voice is now so confidently intimate, so easily conversational, that it becomes difficult to think of
in terms of ‘performance.’…” Lincoln
Another excellent source for information on Abbey’s uniqueness in the world of vocal Jazz is to be found in the essay entitled Abbey
(Strong Wind Blowing) by
Gary Giddins. It is included in his Visions of Jazz: The First Century [Oxford
University Press]. Lincoln
Here are a few excerpts from
’s work: Gary
“The reemergence in the early '90s of Abbey Lincoln as a queenly jazz singer and the simultaneous rediscovery of the long retired Doris Day prompted my thoughts about parallels and distinctions between them. In 1991, each was the subject of documentary films: Gene Davis's You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, the Life of Abbey
, which was initially broadcast overseas
only, and Jim Arntz's Doris Day: A Sentimental Journey,
which was shown on PBS. Day was the quintessence of blonde: even her golden
album covers reflected the sunshiny chirpiness of an unaffectedly sexy voice
and approach to song. Lincoln had carried the banner for ebony since the '50s: "A strong
black wind blowing/ Gently on and on," Nikki Giovanni wrote of her.” … Lincoln
's most expressive tour de force was to
come, however, in 1995, with A Turtle's Dream: nine
originals, plus "Nature Boy" and "Avec Le Temps." Allard
once again found a fresh means of presentation, combining stellar soloists
from three generations (Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, Lucky
Peterson, and tenor saxophonist Julien Lourau, who has listened well to Joe
Henderson and Stan Getz), top-drawer rhythm sections, and a few strings. At
this stage, no one was likely to miss the generic quality of an Abbey Lincoln
song, words or music. With rare exceptions, Lincoln writes songs of a woman
alone, dispensing advice about cycles and acceptance that might seem trite if
not for the enormous emotional resources she draws on as a singer and her
ability to intensify lyrics with details that shake up clichés.” Lincoln
is most eloquent in live performance,
taking the measure of her audience. On record, the songs often suggest the
consequence of loneliness; in concert, they are enlivened by the relief of
shared experience The long, sustained notes, often hit at a pitch just lower
than what you anticipate, have the quality of elated drones. Give yourself up
to them, and you are lost to her timbre and intonation and then to the world
from which they derive. …” Lincoln
Abbey sings “I Concentrate on You” in the following video with Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone, Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano, Bob Boswell on bass and Max Roach on drums.