Featured Musician - December 2008

Name : Toni  Lincoln

Toni Lincoln

Instrument: Voice

Early Years/Education: I grew up in Portland listening to lots of music, mostly jazz and classical.  When I was a little girl I'd line up my dolls and sing to them. My mom played piano and loved to draw, there was always somebody doing art around the house. I left for California when I was twenty-two to work in retail and eventually got into management as a senior executive. After a while I got tired of working with grown folks who acted like children and decided I'd rather work with real children and went back to school and took some early childhood development classes. I then opened my own family daycare center down there. A few years ago I decided to move back home. I really didn't start singing professionally until 2005. Singing was something I always wanted to do. A couple of times previously I stepped out to sing, but there were things that happened that scared me to death, and I thought, I've got a good job, I don't need it! I just never did it because there's so many people who do sing. I felt that my voice was sort of all over the place. But in 1997, I saw a documentary about Sara Vaughan. When I heard her sing, I thought, “Wow,” I do that with my voice. It was almost like I gave myself permission to sing the way I do. I feel like as the years have gone by that I've let go of the fear of the audience not liking all the things I'm doing with my voice. When I'm singing, I'm in the song, either portraying the emotions of the person who wrote it, or it's me experiencing those emotions. 

The first time I got up and sang professionally was at the Blue Monk when my sister, Aaliyah, tricked me. We were going there to see my Dad, Sweet Baby James, sing with The Original Cats. He was sick that night and never showed. So my sister tells the owner that I'm a professional singer. Now the owner introduces me and the whole audience is urging me to get up there. I was too embarrassed not to, so I sang “Misty.” I was terrified! I wasn't sure how they were going to end the tune, but I heard what the organist was doing and followed him, and it just worked. Ron Steen was in the audience and he walks up to me and says, “You really hear the music, don't you.” He asked me to call him and invited me to come to Alexander's at the Hilton to sing. The following week he invited me to sing at his jam at Clyde's, and that's how it started. If it weren't for Ron Steen, Phil Baker, Tom Grant and my sister encouraging me, I don't think I'd be doing this. Educationally, I took a vocal class for three months, and at the end of the session I had to sing for the class. I picked a Barbara Streisand tune, and they gave me a standing ovation. The teacher took me aside and encouraged me to sing professionally. Lately, I'm working with pianist Alan Rosenfeld on reading music.

Musical Influences: Nancy Wilson, Sara Vaughan, Dina Washington, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Erroll Garner, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Johnny Hartman, to name a few. Growing up I heard very few female vocalists, it was mostly instrumental music.   

Most Satisfying Experience: One night at the Hilton, Tom Grant, Phil Baker and Ron Steen were playing, and the last tune we did was “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” ... that was my first time ever getting a standing ovation in a club, I even saw people with tears in their eyes. My last gig at Wilf's  with Ben Darwish, Phil Baker and Ron Steen, the audience was enraptured.

Favorite Recordings: Nancy Wilson: “And Cannonball Adderley,” “Hollywood: My Way,” and “Guess Who I Saw Today.” As far as Nancy 's tunes, I like her versions of “Misty,” “Something Wonderful,” “Dream Street”  and “An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine”; Erroll Garner's “One World Concert”; Sara Vaughan's “The Ultimate Sara Vaughan” and “The Diva Series” and her versions of  “If You Can See Me Now” and “Easy Living”; Billie Holiday's “Good Morning Heartache”; Dinah Washington “What a Difference a Day Makes”; “Our Day Will Come” from  Ruby and the Romantics; Duke Ellington: “Prelude to a Kiss.”

Discography: For the first time I'm really thinking about doing a CD. I feel that now I'm ready and the real singer is emerging, but I still don't think my voice has reached it's peak. After the first of the year I'm going to take this seriously. Whatever I do, I'd like to add a horn player and a guitarist.

Gigs: Sunday, December 7, “Potluck in the Park” with the Tom Grant Band (Dave Captein, bass, Ron Steen, drums) and featuring vocalists Nancy Curtin, Kate Davis, Rebecca Kilgore, Shelly Rudolph, and myself at the Acadian Ballroom, 1829 N E Alberta Street, 6:00 to 8:30 pm. For more information call (503) 546-6800 or go to www.potluckinthepark.org; Thursday, December 18, I'll have pianist Ben Darwish and bassist Dave Speranza with me at The Maiden (639 SE Morrison) from 8:00 to 10:00 pm; Saturday, December 27, with Tom Grant at Rafati's Encore, 310 SW Lincoln, 7:30 to 10:30 pm. My first real gig as a leader was last month at Wilf's. I do a lot of sit-ins at jam sessions, like the one in Vancouver at a place called Tommy O's. Tom Grant's drummer, Jeff Frankel, puts that together, and I go to all of Ron Steen's jams. I'm talking to Tony Starlight about doing a show there also.

Future Plans: I'd love to have a gig at Jimmy Mak's. Ron, Tom and Phil are my key players. I'd also love to have Art Abrams and Dan Faehnle there as well. When I sing a song, another song might come up in my head, and I'd love to sing them together, that's something I'm hoping to do in the future. I'd also love to leave Portland occasionally to sing; I'd love to sing in Europe. 

Other: The more I sing, the more confident and playful I feel. I'd love to have a particular spot where I could sing on a regular basis. I'd like to tap into that group of folks who really don't go out that much, they need an occasion.

Quote: Jam master Ron Steen on Toni: “One of the best vocalists I've ever played with. Her voice is very reminiscent of Sara Vaughan. There's nothing she can't do...her tone, pitch, inflection, it's pure jazz. What's amazing is she's only been singing professionally for three years.” 

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon