View video footage of Marc Cary performing live with Abbey Lincoln
Marc Cary has gained a reputation as one of the most creative pianists of our time, a bandleader with musical interests that encompass jazz, go-go, hip-hop, electronic music, Indian classical music and more. But Cary is also an incisive and sought-after accompanist, a fact famously borne out by his 12-year tenure (beginning in 1994) with the great vocalist, songwriter and jazz icon Abbey Lincoln.
For the Love of Abbey, Cary’s first solo piano recording, is the most personal and heartfelt of tributes, shedding light on Lincoln’s remarkable body of work and honoring her extraordinary gift for melody and songcraft.
“Abbey’s compositions are worthy of an instrumental approach because they’re so rich and lend themselves to be interpreted as instrumentals,” Cary told journalist Willard Jenkins, who wrote the liner notes to For the Love of Abbey. “Abbey has been a beacon for me,” Cary continued, “and because of my love for her I wanted to share my expression of her music.”
Lincoln came to know Cary while he was a member of Taylor’s Wailers, led by legendary drummer Arthur Taylor – who happened to be Lincoln’s next-door neighbor in Harlem. “When we got finished rehearsing with A.T., Abbey would come over,” Cary recalls. “I became a part of the family. She got to check me out for a long time. She knew my character. I think she always knew that I would fit.”
Cary’s tenure with Lincoln was longer than that of any other pianist. And Cary was following in the footsteps of the very best: Mal Waldron, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly and Kenny Barron, among others. “I try not to freak myself out by saying, ‘Wow, now I’m the one,’” Cary reflects. “It made me feel good but it didn’t influence me in any way, because Abbey wanted something new, something in the moment.”
Lincoln left us in August 2010. There are moments during Cary’s poetic recital when one can almost hear her voice, sculpting each melodic phrase and flourish. “The Music is the Magic,” one of her signature numbers, is represented here, as is the majestic “Another World,” leading off the set in an inspired out-of-tempo treatment.
Cary also chose to revisit “My Love Is You” and “Throw It Away,” both of which he’s recorded as a leader in markedly different contexts (on Listen, Trillium and Focus Trio Live 2009). Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia,” which appeared on Cary’s 1998 release The Antidote, is also included, for reasons Cary explains: “Abbey loved to hear me play this piece. It accentuates the feelings I have about her passing into the next realm.”
In the dark minor tonalities of “Down Here Below” and “Should’ve Been,” the hovering uncertainty of “Who Used to Dance,” and the poignant balladry of “When I’m Called Home,” Cary evokes memories and life lessons that transcend music. “I’ve carried Abbey Lincoln into a hospital in my arms, when she twisted her ankle,” Cary recalls. “I picked her up in my arms. It was more than just playing with somebody. I drove to her house and learned the songs from her playing the piano. She’d voice it so simply. I learned a lot of simplicity with her – how to make that a beautiful thing. I learned how to create high energy in one chord: when you play it, how you play it, which one you choose, at what time.” marc cary Credit: Rebecca Meek
Born in New York in January 1967, Cary was raised in Washington, DC and became an important figure in the city’s burgeoning go-go scene. He attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and upon relocating to New York in 1988, began his rise as an eclectic jazz piano modernist. In addition to Abbey Lincoln, he has worked with such masters as Betty Carter, Arthur Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Shirley Horn. He has earned Grammy nominations for his work with Lincoln, Carter, Roy Hargrove and Stefon Harris’s Blackout. His talent has elevated the music of everyone from Russell Gunn and Marcus Printup to Q-Tip (Cary’s production work for Q-Tip’s 2009 album, The Renaissance, helped earn the disc a GRAMMY® nomination) Meshell Ndegeocello and Ani DiFranco.
Cary debuted as a leader in 1995 with Cary On. His electronica odyssey Rhodes Ahead Vol. 1 won him the first annual Billboard/BET Best New Jazz Artist Award in 2000. With 2006′s Focus, Cary debuted on the Motéma label, and the “Focus Trio” has endured as one of his main working units: Focus Trio Live 2009 and the digital release Live 2008 further revealed the trio’s exploratory approach.
Later this year Motéma will offer Focus Trio 2013, featuring longtime Focus drummer Sameer Gupta as well as bassists Burniss Travis and Rashaan Carter. The trio’s objective, as Cary stated in his first Focus liner note, is “to bring indigenous rhythms together with American jazz to create new palettes of sound.”
Another vehicle in this quest is Cary’s band Indigenous People, which mines the rich history of African diasporic music – from African folk melodies, Brazilian and Caribbean grooves to jazz, funk and go-go rhythms. The band documented its sound on the albums Captured Live in Brazil (1999), Unite (2001) and N.G.G.R. Please (2003). Cary has now rebilled the group as “Cosmic Indigenous” and has a forthcoming release in the works. Meanwhile, he continues to work as a producer and collaborator on countless projects.
Even when paring down to solo piano on For the Love of Abbey, Cary makes music of great orchestrational variety and depth. Still, he heeds the wisdom of Lincoln herself, who would often admonish him with the words: “It’s a simple song.” As Cary says, “With Abbey I had to play differently than I did. It changed my whole perspective. I learned how to deconstruct myself.”
Asked for the single most valuable lesson he got from Abbey Lincoln, Cary responds: “Learning how to shed things you don’t need, and claim what is yours.”