Sunday, August 15, 2010

RIP Abbey Lincoln

I can't remember exactly how I found my way to Abbey Lincoln's music, but I know that she was the first living jazz singer to stop me in my tracks and make me want to hear a song again and again. I vaguely remember rummaging through the used CD bins at the local record store and seeing a record with Stan Getz (her 1991 release You Gotta Pay the Band, also with Hank Jones and Charlie Haden) and buying it based on Stan's presence... Regardless, I was hooked as soon as I heard the first notes of the song Bird Alone. Later on, I picked up other albums, including Abbey is Blue, which to this day is a desert island album for me.

The rawness and nakedness of her style and power of her conviction is almost unparalleled in the jazz tradition. She had nothing to prove about her voice or musicianship - it's simply there for us to take in, pure, honest, and timeless. Listening to her early records now, it's so hard to conceive that it's the voice of somebody in her twenties and thirties that is singing - it's so developed and full of feeling and sorrow.

Besides her singing, she had an exquisite choice of sidemen (just look at the roster of people on her Riverside albums of the fifties and sixties), unique taste in songs and and a totally adventurous approach to them. Although her own compositions were never my favorite things that she did, I do admire her desire to bring contemporary material to the jazz world that dealt with things other than romance, and I'm sure many of these songs will be sung by other singers for years to come.

I did see her perform once at Yoshi's in Oakland. She sounded great, and was just such a beautiful person to be in the presence of. She possessed a rare gentleness, style and grace that I will always remember. I only wish I had taken advantage of other opportunities to see her.

I put a few of my favorite songs of hers below. Read the New York Times obituary here.

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