A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln at the Kennedy Center
May 23, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
UPDATE: Read the review from The Washington Post here. Critic Mike Joyce tells you about THE BAND! And there's a good photo. BP
On Friday night at the Mary Lou Williams Festival in Washington, DC, four daughters of Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010) opened her songbook together, for the first time.
This was a dynamic concert, and generous too. More than five hundred people in the Terrace Theater concentrated on the artists onstage concentrating on words and music that came from Abbey Lincoln's own concentration. We felt the loss of her, and newly appreciated the gift she left us.
Thanks to fate, in the 1990s, I attended two of Abbey's own songbook nights at Alice Tully Hall and saw her at the smaller theater at BAM -- similarly staged performances, the singer and her band. At A Tribute to Abbey, the singers divided her book. Dee Dee Bridgewater sang "Wholly Earth" and "Another World," examples of Abbey's special perspective, akin to astronomy. Dianne Reeves told more earthly stories with "Supposed to Be Love," "Tender as a Rose," and sang the anthem "Bird Alone." I most clearly heard Abbey's voice in "Talkin to the Sun," in which Cassandra Wilson found the perfect vibration, though fleeting.
First, each singer told a story. Dee Dee spoke of late night phone conversations with Abbey, in which Dee Dee promised to actively keep Abbey's music alive. This concert begins to fulfill that promise, and I know Dee Dee would like to take the project further. Dianne recalled a joint interview in which the first question was What is jazz? This could have been an awkward moment, but Abbey answered directly: Jazz is spirit. Cassandra remembered asking Abbey for permission to sing one of her songs. That was 25 years ago, and the answer was non verbal. Cassandra sang the song for the first time Friday night (see program below).
Before the last piece, drummer and Musical Director Terri Lyne Carrington told her story. Terri Lyne had heard that Abbey once said, "Men play the music, women sing it." As if to address that head on, Terri Lyne conjured both Max Roach and Abbey with the drum-powered "Freedom Day" from their Civil Rights struggle album, We Insist! The entire house imagined the "whisper, whisper" moment as, one by one, slaves heard they were free. The performance was extended, dramatic, brought Dianne Reeves to the floor and the audience to its feet in something greater than a standing ovation.
In 2011-12, we intend to broadcast this concert on JazzSet.
© 2011 WBGO
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