Friday, December 31, 2010

In Memoriam: Abbey Lincoln

Abbey Lincoln: Talking to the Sun


Give a listen to Talking to the Sun. The song opens with just the drums. That’s just one drummer, but he’s playing an intricate pattern that sounds like it came from Africa. The band joins in, and the music is definitely jazz, but that African feel is still there. Abbey Lincoln starts to sing. Her voice sounds like a second horn, (is there such a thing as an alto trumpet?). She perfectly captures the emotion of the lyric, and her words are clear. After stating the theme, she takes a solo. She skats at the end of the song, but, before that, she is singing the words over, but working magic on the music. The emotion of the piece is only enhanced.

The description above, for me, perfectly captures the artistry of Abbey Lincoln. The connection to Africa did not show up in all of her work, but it was important to her. During the 1960s, she would become active in the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, she also pursued an acting career, and there was hardly any music. In the 70s, even the acting stopped. Her marriage to Max Roach had ended, and she withdrew from the spotlight. When she returned in the 80s, however, she more than proved that she still had it. She focused on the music from then on. Talking to the Sun is from 1984. Lincoln was never afraid to experiment with a wide variety of musical settings, but she never forgot that it must always be about the song. In her early career, from 1956 to the early 60s, she sang other people’s songs. But the later part of her career also proved that she was a fine songwriter as well. Lincoln is gone now, but thirty-five years of music remain. I suspect that jazz singers will be listening to, and learning from, that body of work for a long time to come.

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