Two Sophie's Divas, Andrea Thompson and Helen Viksnins, share their impressions from the second night of the 2011 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, a tribute to Abbey Lincoln, at the Kennedy Center.
Helen: And we know you missed it, because again we didn't see you there! (Warning: I have nothing but great things to say about last night's performance, so beware of gushings!)
Andrea: The Abbey Lincoln tribute can not truly be summed up in one word, one sentence, even one article, but I do know this, if you missed this, you MISSED IT!!!!
Andrea: Jazz vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Cassandra Wilson teamed up for a trinity of talent that was only heightened by drumming sensation and Music Director Teri Lynn Carrington.
Helen: I'm in love with these women who are the ultimate in expressing their musical talent and creativity. I also need to acknowledge the performers who supported them. I don't know their names, but even though they are men (in a women's festival), I could sense their reverence for the music and for the beauties on the front of the stage.
Teri Lynn told a story as the evening began. That once Abbey had said to her that "Men play, women sing," and that as a woman drummer she didn't know how she felt about that. My answer to her is that her drums sing. Her heart sings through the drumbeats. Her heart sings through the backbone that she provides to the other artists on the stage.
Helen: I was properly introduced to Abbey during this concert, and it's going to be one of my greatest pleasures to continue to get to know her. Dianne Reeves commented that Abbey wrote songs in all emotions - lightest love to deepest despair. We heard that and more last night.
Andrea: These four women were the four women that they needed to be, that Nina Simone spoke of, that grandma prayed for and that all of us tonight were anointed by. This evening was all a part of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival that is presented yearly by the Jazz Program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This year, due to her recent passing, Abbey Lincoln was the focus of the second night of festivities and although she was not there in body, she was definitely there in spirit. The renditions of songs that Abbey sang, wrote, and often composed brought to mind the following statement.
These conjure women conjured up magic in homage to the conjurer who once taught them. Ethereal, surreal, and elemental. Having only seen these women apart, their trio tripled the energy, raised the bar for the musicians and the audience, and in the end sent many of us out of our seats with a soul stirring version of "Freedom Now".
Abbey Lincoln was a women who moved herself, people, movements, and these women. And boy did they move. Always one to be open to new things, I am totally a FAN, collective energy brings out the best in us and thanks to these ladies many of us left that theater more moved, dusted with a bit of Abbey's magic, and inspired to honor women who matter to us.
There were two songs (besides the encore) where all three singers shared the stage: The River, Caged Bird and Freedom Day. The River is a description of Los Angeles freeways, believe it or not, and concluded with all three talking/chanting rhythmically to paint a picture of masses of people passing by, conjuring the murmuring of a river. [Andrea: Caged Bird is and was an amazing vocal exploration of sound, heart and harmonizing. These divas did Abbey’s tale of the courage and desires of those of “caged-in” with such justice it flowed over the microphones as if a luscious lullaby.] Freedom Day is the exuberance of the newly-freed slaves as they rush about to spread the news of emancipation, and is a part of Max Roach's Freedom Suite.
This was my first time hearing Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson live. I was mesmerized by both, but especially by Cassandra Wilson, whose face was so open and welcoming! When she moved, it was as if she were made of grace.