Honoring Abbey Lincoln – a Woman of Love & Protest

Written by | Concerts, News

April 23, Sunday—Hebden Bridge Town Hall, West Yorkshire, UK April 24, Monday—International Festival of Jazz Piano, Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic. –

The American jazz pianist and composer Marc Cary played with Abbey Lincoln for twelve years, at the end of her career, while at the beginning of his. Cary has a wide range of contemporary influences including hip-hop and the Washington D.C. go-go scene from his youth, but Abbey Lincoln’s influence on him seems to be the deepest. His tribute album to her “For the Love of Abbey” (Montema Records) was released in 2013 with intricate solo piano instrumentals of her compositions with a few of his own.

Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010) was a prominent American jazz vocalist and lesser known as a composer. Her career began as an actress in the 1950s and she seemed to be on her way to Hollywood stardom as an entertainer (actress and singer), but then she met Max Roach, a major figure on the bebop and hard bop scene, so she soon joined his circle of artist musicians and civil rights activists for a rougher road.

Max Roach along with Booker Little, Eric Dolphy, Mal Waldron and George Coleman were among the first circle of jazz musicians to incorporate the sound of protest in their music—it was a protest to the racism, discrimination and poverty that persists in American society. While Abbey Lincoln’s vocals on “We Insist—Max Roach’s Freedom Suite” (1960), and “Percussion Bitter Sweet” (1961) redefined her.

On “Triptych (Prayer, Protest, Peace)” from “We Insist” Lincoln has ferociousness with a scream unheard of in jazz or any pop music until then. Her urgency on those recordings is matched later only by Iggy Pop or Johnny Rotten, while female jazz vocalists have rarely dared to tread in this terrain.

After a tour of Africa in the mid-1970s, Abbey Lincoln adopted the name Aminata Moseka, and on “For the Love of Abbey,” Cary’s composition “For Moseka” is a standout on the recording, as a delicate whirlwind with its unceasing, looping motif and most adventurous ride down the center. Overall, he moves from uplifting melodies to solemn marches down that long and weary path of life, which Lincoln endured (while nourished by her music). Most of all, the songs selected by Cary have a sense of determination about them. The bonus track on the digital issue, “Wholly Earth,” is a track that Abbey recorded with Marc Cary in 1998, on the similarly named album for Verve Records.

Whether Marc Cary was considering this or not, when he sat down to record “For the Love of Abbey,” but by reintroducing Abbey Lincoln’s oeuvre to a new and ideally younger audience, he is also inviting listeners to reexamine how an artist like Abbey Lincoln was appreciated and scorned in her lifetime.

For instance, there was a vexing and degrading review by the acclaimed jazz critic Ira Gitler for her fourth album as a vocalist, the 1961 album “Straight Ahead” on the Candid label. Gitler wrote in Down Beat, that Abbey Lincoln was a “professional negro,” and who knows what that was meant to imply.

This album included Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins, Eric Dolphy, Mal Waldron, and Booker Little, but Gitler chose to criticize the singer’s attitude (embracing a new pride in her African heritage) over the music. “I dislike propaganda in art when it is a device,” he wrote. Then later, “Miss Lincoln has emotional power, but her over-all mannered approach becomes tiring in the end….Pride is one’s heritage is one thing, but we don’t need the Elijah Muhammed type of thinking in jazz,” he wrote.

For an Abbey Lincoln song like “Throw it Away,” Cary plays with possibly the most noticeable emotion, as he seems to be ringing the lyrics to the music is in own head and then onto the piano keys.

His rendition of “My Love is You,” is equally powerful, reaching for the heart and emotion that Lincoln released herself in those compositions. Such love songs have dominance on the album, and Cary tears into these with fury, and especially in “Love Evolves.” While her songs of social protest, from the early 1960s, are more appropriate than ever, it is unfortunate that Cary has not included more of these to make his tribute to her sing out with the equal rage of Abbey Lincoln, as well as her quests for love.

She sang out with a sneer on one of her songs from “Straight Ahead” like a modern jazz poem, entitled “In the Red.” And this, along with many others, predates by fifty years the cries of Occupy Wall Street.

“No account bank account

Can raise a dime, can’t pay the bills

I got undying? No account is dang account?

That’s got me flying though

Sure make’s a poor man’s way

A hard row to hoe

They say to keep on smiling

When trouble comes in twos

Rich folks say to keep on smiling

But poor folks pay the dues

No account bank account

I’m broke and bent

Though the lord provides

The rent ain’t heaven sent

No account, bank account

Will make you change your ways

There won’t be no peace of mind

Till I see better days”

Marc Cary will be performing a couple of exclusive solo piano recitals dedicated to the music of Abbey Lincoln, a timeless jazz innovator, with only one concert in the UK and one in Europe.

April 23, Sunday—Hebden Bridge Town Hall, West Yorkshire, UK

April 24, Monday—International Festival of Jazz Piano, Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic

Text: Tony Ozuna

Images: Rebecca Meek

YT Video: Marc Cary

Last modified: July 15, 2018