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Ring In Women's History Month with Take Five: Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Nina Simone, More

“The best thing you can do,” Abbey Lincoln once said, “is to be a woman and stand before the world and speak your heart.”

March is Women’s History Month, and WBGO will honor the inestimable contributions of women in our music over the coming weeks. This monthlong initiative, playing out both online and on the air, draws on the conviction that women have always been an essential force in jazz, blues and soul.

To kick things off, this week’s Take Five features selections by WBGO announcers, in the spirit of Women’s History Month. Be sure to mark your calendar for a special edition of The Pulse on March 10, featuring all of these veteran broadcasters in a conversation about their experience as women in jazz media.

Betty Carter, “Feed the Fire”

Betty Carter once gifted me this cherished advice: “Never be afraid to just go ahead and do what you want to do!” She lived by those words — running her own record label, calling the shots on the bandstand, writing her own music, and launching the careers of many. “Feed the Fire,” recorded live in London with super-trio Geri Allen, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, captures Carter diving into rhythmic fancy and dancing with the notes in between the notes like only she can. (Monifa Brown)

Abbey Lincoln, “Throw It Away” (Live at the Keystone Korner)

Amen to NEA Jazz Master Todd Barkan for capturing Abbey Lincoln in this performance on March 11, 1980 at The Keystone Korner in San Francisco. On this night, Abbey blessed the house with her original (and now a jazz standard) “Throw it Away,” inspired by a “magic book,” the I Ching. Her trio — pianist Phil Wright, bassist James Leary and drummer Doug Sides — sets it up as a slow blues over which Abbey slides in with a low moan, reminiscent of the start of a spiritual in a Black church on a Sunday morning. She’s urging the congregation to release all that weighs heavy on their souls, if it does not belong there. Hallelujah! (Lezlie Harrison)

Nina Simone, “Four Women” (Live in Paris, 1968)

Nina Simone is an artist I deeply connect with. Whether she’s singing about being “Young, Gifted and Black” or Putting a Spell on the man doing her wrong.  But “Four Women” is a song that brings up many different emotions for me, in a way no other song can. It’s a reminder that us women, while so very different, are so very similar in that we all have a personal story to tell. A story all our own. And as different as they are, I find I have a connection with each of these four women and their stories — especially at the end, when Nina screams: “My name is Peaches!” It is a testament to “I am woman, hear me roar!” (Nicole Sweeney)

Billie Holiday, “Lover Man”

In her autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues, Billie Holiday wrote: “If you find a tune that’s got something to do with you, you don’t have to evolve anything. You just feel it, and when you sing it other people can feel something too.” That was Billie’s gift. No one could convey depth of feeling the way that Lady Day did. Here’s a rendition of “Lover Man” that is steeped in emotion. (Rhonda Hamilton)

Graciela with Machito & His Afro-Cuban Salseros, “U-Bla-Ba-Du”

With his 1940s bands, Machito played a huge role in the history of Latin jazz. At the same time, Graciela opened doors for all those who followed her, as a Black Cuban woman in a world dominated by men. She performed and recorded with Machio, her adoptive brother, who had given her singing lessons. Later, they played alongside “The Legendary Mambo King” — Mario Bauzá, musical director and lead trumpeter in Machito and the Afro-Cubans, and originator of Afro-Cuban jazz. Graciela could sing and swing a jazzy mambo as easily as she performed the most romantic boleros. (Awilda Rivera)

Geri Allen, “Printmakers”

Geri Allen was a woman of many firsts. Her 1984 debut recording, The Printmakers, earned hers a place in the pantheon of jazz history. She was able to take from the masters (Ellington, Monk, Hill) and embrace the current (avant-garde) to establish a sound very much her own. Ethan Iverson was accurate in his assessment of Geri, evidenced in this recording, that she was “so out and so in.” With all original compositions, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Andrew Cyrille executed her vision perfectly. (Sheila Anderson)

Vi Redd, “I Remember Bird”

Vi Redd commanded the bandstand as a double threat, with her vocal prowess and agility on alto saxophone. She has set the stage for artists like Camille Thurman, who credits her as a major inspiration. Thurman feels that Redd not only influenced her artistry but also gave her the courage to be the first woman in 30 years to tour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Redd led by example, as she navigated male spaces with ease beginning in the 1960s while backing artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Her 1962 debut album, Bird Call, pays tribute to the music of Charlie Parker. Fittingly, coming off Bird’s centennial year, here is Redd paying homage with “I Remember Bird.” (Keanna Faircloth)