The great jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, who passed away three years ago, once said, “I loved Billie Holiday more than any other person other than myself on the stage. Yeah, I do.” In spite or because of this emphatic admiration, she has found her very own voice without ever losing her unmistakably individual self. True love and adoration of someone’s art does not, by any means, entail self-abandonment; quite the contrary – it is an important aspect of an artist’s personal growth in the process of coming into one’s own.
On her new album “Learning How To Listen – the Song and Music of Abbey Lincoln” Berlin-based vocalist Esther Kaiser brilliantly proves this point by interpreting Abbey Lincoln’s songs in her own idiosyncratic way, thus creating a truly intense listening experience. Esther Kaiser’s respect and admiration for Abbey Lincoln corresponds to what Abbey Lincoln had to say about her idol Billie Holiday. “To me, Abbey is not only a true musical and lyrical master, but also a great source of wisdom and inspiration when it comes to the many facets of philosophy and life. Abbey’s love of theater, her profound and razor-sharp sociopolitical observations as well as her personal and artistic struggles make her life outstanding among other jazz luminaries. I feel connected to her in the continuous search for meaning and understanding.”
The conception of Esther Kaiser’s new album, exclusively dedicated to Abbey Lincoln’s music, began in 2005: “The opening track and one of the key songs on my album ‘The Moment We Met’ (Minor Music 2006), was ‘Throw It Away'”, Esther Kaiser explains her artistic vision. “The wonderful music of Abbey Lincoln should be played live instead of being conserved on CDs. The fact that audiences have reacted so enthusiastically without even knowing some of the songs has reassured me and my band in the pursuit of our project.”
Esther Kaiser is one of those rare artists who are able to deeply immerse themselves into the work of their idol while fully maintaining their own individual approach to the music. For this reason, songs like “Love Has Gone Away” or “A Turtle’s Dream” sound so refreshingly contemporary. Abbey Lincoln was spot on when she said, “I think that’s what really a substantial work is, it’s forever. It’s the truth now and it was the truth then, and it will be the truth tomorrow.” Esther Kaiser represents this truth that will be just as valid tomorrow as it is in the here and now of the 21st century. She has a deep understanding of what it means to relate to the artistic path of Abbey Lincoln. Instead of blindly emulating her, Esther Kaiser does what Abbey Lincoln would have wholeheartedly approved of: she rises above the tradition and emerges as a self-determined and unapologetic artist. Just as it should be.