Bridgewater, Spalding, Reeves Tip Their Hat to Abbey Lincoln


Diane Reeves (left), Dee Dee Bridgewater and Esperanza Spalding pay homage to Abbey Lincoln during a tribute performance held in honor of the late singer at Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 6.

(Photo: Shahar Azran)

The Apollo Theater’s Abbey Lincoln Tribute, the centerpiece of its four day Women of the World (WOW) Festival, was a fitting celebration of the music and message of the last half-century’s foremost female jazz vocalist-social activist.

The May 6 concert, a production of the John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts, under the musical direction of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, brought together three of today’s premier ladies of song: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding, who delivered the powerful missives that characterized Lincoln’s artistry.

The show opened with percussionist Mino Cinelu’s hand drums sounding a potent musical call to action that quickly swelled with the churning cadences of the ensemble’s rhythm section, which featured longtime Lincoln accompanist Marc Cary on piano along with Carrington on drums, James Genus on bass and Marvin Sewell on guitar.

As the trio of Grammy Award winning vocalists took their places seated front and center on swiveling stools, with Bridgewater sporting one of Lincoln’s trademark top hats, their powerful vocal shouts palpably evoked the spirit of the woman that they were joining forces to honor.

First up, Spalding intoned the opening verse of Lincoln’s “The River” with dramatic flair as the fat-toned tenor saxophone of Edmar Colón rose up behind her. Bridgewater followed, forcefully orating Lincoln’s words over Cinelu’s relentlessly driving hand drums. Reeves then closed out the round robin—vocalizing after Cary’s piano solo, making the melody her own, buoyed by her companions’ vocal backing before the three came together, exchanging onomatopoeic accents that dissolved into a long slow fade.

Bridgewater prefaced her performance of Lincoln’s “The Music Is The Magic” by feting the composer, calling her a soothsayer who became the vessel that would encompass the stories of all her ancestors. Singing the song over a soulful Afro-Caribbean beat, she alternated the opening and closing choruses between her dark-toned lower register and sweet-sounding upper, bisected by Sewell’s bluesy guitar solo.

Next up, Reeves proclaimed, “The beauty of Abbey Lincoln is the beautiful melodies that go with her words … always speaking the truth and healing the heart,” before delivering a compelling, virtually operatic wordless vocal of Lincoln’s “Bird Alone,” complemented by Colón’s lyrical piano solo, and a telling interpretation of “It’s Supposed To Be Love” (with solos by Genus and Sewell).

Spalding, standing statuesque at the microphone, declared that Lincoln’s lyrics often made one “hear the things inside of you that you don’t want to say aloud.” Accompanied by Genus’ solitary bass, she sang the opening chorus of “Laugh Clown Laugh” in a hushed intimate tone, then, with the entrance of the band for the song’s second chorus, she belted out the words with the commanding authority of a seasoned Broadway leading lady.

Bridgewater was featured on a medley of Lincoln’s “I’ve Got Thunder” and “Wholly Earth,” the latter of which included a bold tenor solo by Colón and an imposing percussion outing by Cinelu that segued into Reeves’ gentle reading of “Talking To The Sun” that continued the examination of Lincoln’s attentiveness to the wonders of nature.

Spalding was out front once more for Lincoln’s “Straight Ahead,” and Carrington and Colón’s original arrangement of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” that had the young singer dancing in place with the “undulating grace” referenced in the song’s Oscar Brown Jr. lyric (first recorded by Lincoln on her Abbey Is Blue album and later reprised by Bridgewater on her 1974 debut and Reeves on her 1992 Blue Note album I Remember).

The three singers came together again to perform Lincoln’s signature song “Throw It Away”, which was flavored with Sewell’s tango tinged nylon string guitar, their voices blending harmoniously for the final chorus, after each one had a solo turn on the Zen inspired lyric. Carrington’s hard hitting drums drove the rhythm section and Colón’s authoritative tenor on the opening of “Freedom Day,” the triumphant Max Roach-Brown Jr. anthem that Lincoln emphatically delivered on the former’s groundbreaking We Insist album that galvanized jazz’s catalytic role in the ’60s civil rights movement.

With Bridgewater boldly opening the proceedings, followed by Spalding, the accompanying music steadily rose in dynamic intensity, culminating with Reeves leading the audience in repeated calls and responses of the song’s title words that concluded the piece, provoking and an extended standing ovation and raucous cheers from the audience that only ended when the ensemble returned to close out with the vocal trio festive singing of Lincoln’s iconic lyric to Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk”. DB

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