“Claudia sings in the tradition of the great ones. Her sound is her own.”
– ABBEY LINCOLN
A TRIBUTE TO ABBEY LINCOLN
JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER’S DIZZY’S CLUB COCA-COLA
Wednesday, July 11 – Thursday, July 12
7:30pm & 9:30pm
CLAUDIA ACUÑA, vox
PABLO VERGARA, piano
JUANCHO HERRERA, guitar
CARLOS HENDERSON, bass
OBED CALVAIRE, drums
HOTHOUSE COVER FEATURE - JULY 2018
Claudia Acuña’s Life Lessons By Stephanie Jones
Deriving a strategy from pure listening, she would take her favorite recordings from Bill Evans and Erroll Garner, search for each track’s corresponding lyrics, then create her own vocal arrangement around the existing recording. “The arrangement, per se, or the recording was not made for me,” she says. “It was almost like jumping in to accompany the recording. So that made me dig into harmonies and see how I could fit the melody or improvise around what was already done.”
As a result of her early ear training, Claudia developed into a sensitive musician who approaches space, time and harmony in a receptive way. And when she traveled to New York to play professionally, she found herself among myriad artists who approached the music with equal sensitivity.
Her upcoming performance pays tribute to one of those artists—the person who would become her mentor and beloved friend: Abbey Lincoln. “To many singers, Abbey became an icon,” Claudia says. “To me, she was someone who always sang according to the message that she wanted to give. And after the greats before her—Ella and Carmen McRae and Billie—she and Betty [Carter] were the people that were around, and I was very honored and blessed that I became someone she considered a friend.”
Today Claudia’s known for her unique ability to interpret a song, connecting with the listener on a variety of levels. But as a young singer hitting the session scene, she spent many nights hanging around Abbey, listening not only to her music but to her inputs. Sometimes Claudia took a while to interpret and understand every piece of Abbey’s advice, but when she observed Abbey performing, that’s when everything would click into focus.
“She said this to me once, and then I saw her perform and it was a click: The only difference between my instrument and another instrument is that we have the power of words,” says Claudia. “Even though we play melodies, the difference between me and a saxophone player is that most likely I’m going to be singing lyrics. We’re storytellers. We’re not just singing a beautiful melody; the words are powerful and they exist for a reason.”
Another important lesson Claudia gleaned from her interactions with Abbey is the importance of conviction. Growing up with parents who challenged her devotion to a career in music, Claudia understood the power of inner strength from a young age. But when she began her informal apprenticeship with Abbey, she found a confidant whose own convictions had a profound influence on Claudia’s artistry.
Claudia’s challenge—in addition to the Herculean task of sorting through Abbey’s repertoire—has been striking a creative balance between honoring Abbey’s legacy and expression and preserving her own artistic identity within Abbey’s music. She’s pored over countless repertoire selections and continues to work through arrangements whenever she has a free moment, which is rare for the busy artist. “I already have five songs and I have to pick another five, and I’m just like ‘Ah!!’” she exclaims.
“In the beginning, when I thought about that balance, I didn’t really get as deeply into the thought as I’ve been getting the past couple weeks. As I’m digging into her music, memories are coming back: Conversations, things I’m now remembering because maybe I ran into a note that she wrote or a song that we talked down.”
One way Claudia seeks to achieve such a balance is by choosing repertoire that reflects how she feels about today’s social unrest. “Abbey was very proactive and outspoken,” she says. “Right now, I feel the world, and this country, is going through so many things. How can I pick from that, that also represents how I feel today? So, at this point, I’m sort of letting the songs pick me.”
As she approaches the eighth anniversary of Abbey’s passing, Claudia reflects on how Abbey’s music has influenced the direction she has taken her own craft, and on the spirit of her upcoming performance: “I’m just trying to celebrate her birthday, her legacy and the inspiration that she is and always will be.”
Claudia Acuña: A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln features Pablo Vergara on piano, Juancho Herrera on guitar, Carlos Henderson on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, July 11-12.