Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Lincoln, Abe (Abram)

Of the first generation of great jazz trombonists, few expressed the fire and passion of "hot jazz" better than Abe Lincoln. Lincoln's distinctively outgoing style can be heard in a number of different contexts, from Ed Kirkeby's early hot jazz ensembles through the L.A. studios and during his long and successful career on the Dixieland revival scene. Lincoln's sound is brash and energetic; his music projected youthful exuberance throughout his long career.

Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on March 27, 1907, Lincoln's upbringing was similar to that of his more famous Pennsylvania contemporaries, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. His strict father started him playing the cornet at age five, insisting that he play his scales correctly before being allowed to go to bed. He began playing professionally by age 15 in local bands led by his older brother Bud, and moved to New York in 1923.

Lincoln's first break came with the California Ramblers in 1926, when he was hired to replace Dorsey as the band's trombonist. He had recorded occasionally with the group, cutting his first record with them in 1923, "Shake Your Feet." His first issued recording came with Ace Brigode a year later. As a regular with the Ramblers, Lincoln was at the center of New York's thriving hot jazz scene of the 1920s. He recorded with a number of other outfits as well, including the Varsity Eight, Five Birmingham Babies, and the Goofus Five, under the direction of bandleaders such as Ed Kirkeby, Arthur Lange and Ace Brigode.

After the stock market crash of 1929, Lincoln was one of the relatively few musicians who managed to continue their careers in the subsequent economic turmoil. Lincoln had also just been married, so the need for financial security was especially prominent. He worked regularly with Roger Wolfe Kahn and Paul Whiteman for four years before joining Ozzie Nelson's band in 1934. His work with Nelson in particular led him across the country on tours for five years.

Although Lincoln is perhaps less known today because of the name he shares with his more famous counterpart, President Abraham Lincoln, the similarity of their names occasionally came in handy. Lincoln told a story from his tour with Nelson in which he was pulled over by a pair of drunken police officers during the Prohibition Era. When he showed them his driver's license, they were so distracted by his famous name that they forgot to offer him a ticket; instead, they invited him to join them for a beer at the local speakeasy.

Early in 1939, Lincoln's work with Nelson brought him to Los Angeles, California, where the band had secured a residency at a local radio station. Lincoln left the radio orchestra later that year to pursue opportunities in the expanding studio scene in Los Angeles. His musical consistency and clear, bright trombone sound made him a perfect fit for much of the session work of the time backing Hollywood starts including Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. He can also be heard prominently in the musical score for the Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Despite his musical excellence, Lincoln's personality occasionally caused some problems for his studio career. His penchant for improvisation would occasionally creep into his interpretation of studio arrangements, which usually upset the shows' producers. Still, his career flourished in Los Angeles, allowing him to purchase a home in Van Nuys and still save approximately half of his earnings.

Lincoln's arrival in California also coincided with the Dixieland Revival movement, led by fellow trombonist Kid Ory in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Although he didn't record with any of the Dixieland groups until 1944, Lincoln did play frequently in the Dixieland style of the time. In the mid-1940s, he opened a jazz club in Los Angeles with a group of fellow musicians, "Open House," but sold his share a couple of years later due to the difficulty of managing the club.

His jazz recording career took off again in 1953 with Matty Matlock's Rampart Street Paraders. His best-known recording, Coast Concert, features fellow Trombonist Jack Teagarden as a guest soloist and Bobby Hackett as the leader. Lincoln and Teagarden trade fours on a number of tunes; Lincoln's bright, aggressive sound can be heard in pleasant contrast to Teagarden's more relaxed, decorative style.

Lincoln continued to record frequently with Dixieland-revival outfits throughout the 1950s. Another memorable recording came with Red Nichols in 1955, reestablishing a partnership that they had formed at the height of the hot jazz scene three decades earlier. Jack also recorded with such notable musicians as Jack Webb, George Van Eps and Pete Fountain during this time. Despite not playing in the style of his modernist contemporaries such as J.J. Johnson, Bill Harris and Bob Brookmeyer, he was frequently recognized by the jazz press for being one of the trombone's finest practitioners.

In the 1960s, Lincoln continued his successful studio career in Los Angeles, but recorded less frequently with Dixieland ensembles. He did occasionally moonlight with Wild Bill Davison, until his brief retirement from performing in 1972.

After a couple of years, however, Lincoln found himself unable to stay away from playing jazz. He joined up with Davison again in 1975 for the "Championship of Jazz" in Indianapolis, Indiana and played a number of other festivals in the late 1970s. He was the featured performer at the 1976 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where he led a 16-piece trombone ensemble. His last recording is of a live performance at the Ojai Festivals Bowl in 1979.

This time, Lincoln did retire from playing professionally, and spent his final two decades in his California home. Despite his outgoing musical persona, Lincoln was a very private man, rarely responding to interview requests or fan mail. Although he lived another 20 years, many jazz fans and historians believed that he had passed away.

Lincoln did, however, still pick up the horn on occasion. His family's tradition of big birthday parties continued to his final years, and gave a comfortable venue to play for friends and family. He celebrated his final birthday in March of 2000, and passed away three months later on June 8 at the age of 93.

Lincoln's Coast Concert recording remains a surprising treasure of the Dixieland revival era; his legacy is that of a consistent, successful studio musician who also managed to leave his own mark on the jazz tradition.

Select Discography:

With Bobby Hackett:

Coast Concert/Jazz Ultimate(Collectors Music 165, 1955)

With the Rampart Street Paraders:

Jam Session Coast to Coast(Mosaic MD8-206, 1953)

Dixieland, My Dixieland(Columbia, 1954)

Texas USA(Columbia, 1957)

Contributor: Alex W. Rodriguez