Scott Sternberg/Courtesy of Enja
Abbey Lincoln on the front cover of her 1984 album, Talking to the Sun.
Abbey Lincoln on the front cover of her 1984 album, Talking to the Sun. Scott Sternberg/Courtesy of Enja
"Throw It Away (excerpt)"
"Sophisticated Lady" / "In a Sentimental Mood" (Ellington, Strayhorn)
"Talking to the Sun"
"Caged Bird (excerpt)"
"People on the Street (excerpt)"
"Straight Ahead" (Lincoln, Waldron)
"Living Room" (Lincoln, Roach)
"I Got Thunder"
"Bird Alone" (from the Iridium, NYC, 1996)
All by Abbey Lincoln from the Peppermint Lounge, except where noted.
Abbey Lincoln was born in 1930 into a family of 12 children in Chicago and, later, Michigan. Her family remembers that she grew up at the piano, singing her own songs, and that she was beautiful. In her mid-20s, she appeared in her first Hollywood movie, wearing a dress that Marilyn Monroe had once worn. But as Lincoln found her own way, she burned that dress. In fact, she sewed her own clothes, cutting and stitching, writing poems and melodies, thinking and talking. As her pianist James Weidman says, "She could talk just about anything and give you a perspective you would have never thought of."
This past August, Abbey Lincoln died at age 80. Her death reminded us of this 1984 performance from the Peppermint Lounge, a neighborhood club in Orange, N.J., taped by WBGO in Newark. With Lincoln's friend Dee Dee Bridgewater hosting and Weidman looking back on his eight years with Lincoln — "a beautiful challenge" — we made this JazzSet.
Abbey Lincoln had recently returned to New York after a decade in Los Angeles. She'd just released Talking to the Sun, which Matthias Winckelmann of the Enja label remembers as "a great album [that] kind of started her comeback." Our photos of Lincoln are the cover art, in color on the front and black and white on the back.
The music is mostly Abbey Lincoln. She poetically observes the rush of Los Angeles freeways in "The River," and homelessness in an excerpt from "People on the Street." She expresses her love of light in "Talking to the Sun." "Painted Lady on the Stage" is autobiographical. She is in wonderful voice and spirits, celebrating her new band with Weidman from Youngstown, Ohio, and brothers Billy and Mark Johnson from Milwaukee on bass and drums. Newcomer Cassandra Wilson and Bemshi Schirer sing a little backup.
The critics still weren't "too sure what to make of what she was doing," Weidman says. "But she was sticking to her guns — she was true to her art. One of the things that she would say, she would let us know that if you're doing this kind of work, you have to be able to manage your money."
In the next decade, Abbey Lincoln would record a string of albums for Verve, a major label that gave her "an opportunity to compose things that would be heard." In 1984, she was laying some groundwork. It paid off.
Thanks to Dorthaan Kirk, Wylie Rollins, Al Pryor of WBGO in 1984, and recording engineer Jim Anderson.