All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Interviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Abbey Lincoln: Spirited and Spiritual

R.J. DeLuke By

Sign in to view read count
"The human being is spiritual. It's the only being on the planet that is spiritual, that we know of. We were given dominion here. And we're supposed to be useful to your relatives and distant relatives and everybody else. We know each other from the work that we've left. After the artist is gone the work that they leave here lives forever. We, as a people, have really been blessed in that there's always been some music," says Abbey, illustrating its longevity by noting the title cut, 'It's Me' is a traditional song — probably written 300 years ago, during slavery. "Nobody knows who wrote it. But the writer said something that's universal and forever. He said 'I'm the one. It's me who needs some prayer. Not anybody else. I'm the one who's in charge of my destiny.'"

Lincoln's lyrics throughout her career reflect emotions, personal discoveries and philosophies, and offer illustrative vignettes about existence. With all the trouble in the world, and the eternal struggle for jazz to gain acceptance in the United States, Lincoln is dismayed, but not depressed. Why? Perhaps it comes to down-home logic she learned going back to her childhood with 11 siblings and strong parenting.

"Life has a way of bringing you down front," she says sharply. "And you pay dues for being a fool."

Born Anna Maria Wooldridge, Abbey Lincoln has led a colorful life — cover girl model, actress, singer, political activist, musician — and draws on all her experiences to help shape her pointed observations. From a singing standpoint, she draws on only one person for inspiration.

"Billie Holiday. She sang about the world she lived in. She wasn't phony. And she didn't try to have a good voice. She just told everybody what it was. She told us what it was. It was easy to listen to. I didn't have to worry about her making any notes. It wasn't strange at all," says Abbey, intoning with emotion a lyric to a Holiday staple, " You?ve changed/That sparkle in your eye is gone/Your smile is just a careless yawn. "

"'Strange Fruit,' 'God Bless the Child That's Got His Own.' I don't know of another singer who did what she did, except for Bessie Smith who came before her."

Musically, she's influenced by many of the great jazz artists, including her former husband, the legendary Max Roach. "There's never been a greater drummer on the planet than him. I had a chance to hear Charlie Parker. I met Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. There's a great wealth of musicians. If you join this force, you will be rewarded wonderfully, if you know how to go there. Not everybody knows how to go there.

"Roach taught me a lot. I learned a lot from him. And Dizzy Gillespie. They are masters. They know exactly what's going down with the music. John Coltrane. They're not guessing at anything. They know what it is they're playing. That's why they call it jazz, because they don't want to give them credit for being anything. Then they'll say, 'I don't want to hear all that jazz.' It's not complimentary," says Lincoln. "In the meantime, that's all they have here in America. There are other forms that they call rock and rhythm and blues, and they're not serious forms. They're great forms. They're marvelous. But what they call jazz is the cream of the crop. It's the world that we live in. It lives forever. Louie Armstrong. Duke Ellington.

"I know we don't remember and don't understand. There's a part of me that forgets my self-existence. I know that we didn't do this on purpose. This was brought to us. When you can't claim your name, then you cannot know your ancestors. And consequently, you don't know your gods and don't know your power. This is what we're stuck with. This music that we call jazz is from these people, who remember, and don't remember anything."

As for other singers, she heard and knew them, but "I like Abbey a lot," she says with a glimmer. "I'm my best fan."

"I'm different," from other jazz singers, including Holiday, she says, "because I am also an actress. And I'm a composer and I'm a lyricist, and I paint. I think that I practice the arts to a greater extent than most people do. Most people are dependent on an industry to see them through. I don't give a hoot about the industry. They can give it to their mother !" she says, biting off the last word... "I met this work long before I even knew there was an industry. I don't need any money. I never did, because the forces have always seen to it that Abbey, even when my name was Anna Marie, didn't starve. I've never been without. I learned how to make garments. My mother taught me how. We had sewing machines, and we learned how to make things. I witnessed my father, whistling while pounding the nail in. That's who I come from."

Lincoln's parents are huge influences in her life.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Randy Weston: The Spirit of Our Ancestors Interviews
Randy Weston: The Spirit of Our Ancestors
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: September 7, 2018
Read Val Wilmer: Dues And Testimony Interviews
Val Wilmer: Dues And Testimony
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 5, 2018
Read Bob James: Piano Player Interviews
Bob James: Piano Player
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: September 3, 2018
Read Ben Wolfe: The Freedom to Create Interviews
Ben Wolfe: The Freedom to Create
by Stephen A. Smith
Published: September 1, 2018
Read Peter Epstein: Effortless Precision Interviews
Peter Epstein: Effortless Precision
by Stephen A. Smith
Published: September 1, 2018
Read Dan Shout: In With a Shout Interviews
Dan Shout: In With a Shout
by Seton Hawkins
Published: August 31, 2018
Read "Thandi Ntuli: On Exile" Interviews Thandi Ntuli: On Exile
by Seton Hawkins
Published: June 28, 2018
Read "Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox" Interviews Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 24, 2018
Read "Linley Hamilton: Strings Attached" Interviews Linley Hamilton: Strings Attached
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 17, 2018