Saturday, August 14, 2010


Jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln died this morning. She was 80.

I admit it; I don't generally listen to jazz vocalists. Scat drives me into a rage, and the ballads are usually just boring. But Lincoln at her best had a fiery fervor that could keep even the most anti-vocalist listener from just wondering when the saxophonist was gonna come back in and rescue the piece.

I don't know much about her career, so I'm curious why there was such a huge gap in her discography—Wikipedia doesn't list any records under her own name between 1961's Straight Ahead and 1973's People in Me. What was she doing for twelve years? Somebody fill me in in comments if you know the story.

Anyway, here's some footage of her performing "Driva Man" from 1960's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, an amazing album by Max Roach, to whom she was married for many years.

And here's Burnt Sugar's version, from 2006's Black Sex Y'all Liberation & Bloody Random Violets, featuring Vernon Reid on guitar:

1 comment:

Phil Dyess-Nugent said...

Based on a few interviews I've read (Francis Davis did one that's reprinted in both "In the Moment" and "Jazz and Its Discontents"), I've heard that, during the years she was married to Roach, she was very concerned with activism and the "political" content of her music, to such a degree that it had a negative effect on her career--partly because some potential employers thought she was too hot to handle, partly because she was so particular about what she was willing to do.

I've also had the impression that, until she began writing her own material in the late '70s, she just wasn't capable of focusing her energies the way a jazz singer, especially one who's not getting any younger, needs to if she's going to have a sustained recording career. She did a fair amount of acting in the '60s, and for much of the time that she was a political firebrand, she also seems to have seen herself as "Mrs. Max Roach" and wanted his approval for whatever she was doing. The armchair psychiatrist in me wonders if she had to become a songwriter to feel that she was a real musician and that her talent was worth putting up a fight for.