An Interview with Karrin Allyson
A Moment with
by Paula Edelstein
Feeling blue is truly one of the great human equalizersit’s an undeniable element of life that everyone either has, or will, experience at some point in time. Choosing to embrace that fact head-on, critically acclaimed jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson decided not only to celebrate, but also revel in, every facet of having the blues on IN BLUE (CCD-2106), her newest release from Concord Records. This much-anticipated follow-up to 2001’s double Grammy nominated BALLADSREMEMBERING JOHN COLTRANE (CCD-4950), features Allyson mastering yet another unexplored musical territory. Selecting an imaginative and eclectic collection of tunes ranging from soul jazz classics, ballads, modern blues and timeless pop, each song is in itself, a story that illustrates a different emotional state. Hurt, loneliness, regret, unbridled anger, sadness and even bitterness are all given their due, running the full gamut of sentiments that make up the blues. The concept for the release is one that appealed to Allyson on several different levels. “The blues are so universal, it’s hard not to respond to them,” she explains. Illustrating that very point herself, she notes, “It’s cathartic for me to perform them and to listen to them as well.”
When compiling material for the album, Allyson chose songs by some of music’s most admired composers and lyricists, including Mose Allison, Joni Mitchell, George and Ira Gershwin, Blossom Dearie, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown Jr. and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Mixing together tunes that she has performed for years with a few that were very new to her resulted in a diverse set that provides a magnificent showcase for Allyson’s vocal range and remarkable gift for interpreting lyrics. Here’s what she told us about IN BLUE during her recent tour of the USA, So Listen UP!
Paula E: IN BLUE shows another side of your musical nature…this time it’s the blues. You’ve mentioned that the songs are not exactly what music aficionados perceive as a blues form, but songs that have to do with the blues. These titles reflect such great options that are available about the form. Had you sung many of these songs in concert prior to recording them?
Karrin A: Probably about half. There are tunes that I’ve known for years and heard for years, such as “Moanin'” but never performed it. So that’s one of the tunes that I had not performed “live” before. But most of them were tunes that I loved that I’ve been doing “live” for a while.
Paula E: There are several elements of surprise on the new CD such as Steve Wilson, Mulgrew Miller, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Danny Embrey! Wow! We know you’ve been performing with Danny for a while but how did you hook up with Steve, Mulgrew, Lewis and Peter? They’re such great jazz musicians!
Karrin A: Well Lewis had performed with me before…he was also on my CD titled BALLADS: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE. I’ve long admired his drumming and his great sense of a song. It’s great when a drummer knows lyrics and cares about the song and the mood and the attitude of a song. There’s a lot less to explain and to describe. They always know and they’re kind of expecting what you need. It’s the same with my Kansas City drummer Todd Strait or with Joe LaBarbera. With Peter–I’d never performed with him before but I loved his bass playing. I knew that Peter, Mulgrew and Lewis were pretty much a wonderful piano trio since each one is a leader in their own right. But I just knew it would be a good mix. After adding Danny and Steve Wilsonwe ended up with a really solid, soulful group.
Paula E: Both Art Blakey’s and Benny Golson’s instrumental versions of “Moanin'” became quite famous and were recorded hundreds of times by other artists. But now you’ve brought Jon Hendricks’ vocal version to the forefront. Do you think other vocalists will pick up on the momentum now that you’ve given this song a new beginning?
Karrin A: I don’t know, I certainly hope so. I love this tune very much. My reference to this song was Art Blakey’s instrumental version with Bobby Timmons’ playing. I love the energy behind that version. But when I heard the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross version I was familiar with that version as well. So it’s kind of a melding of the two. But now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve heard that song done by a vocalist since…I don’t know when! But it turned out to be a good opener because the blues evokes a sort of feeling like…let me just get through this day or whatever it is!
Paula E: I definitely know what you mean! It’s been said, “The blues is the mother of jazz.” Would you agree or do you feel it’s just another musical cousin?
Karrin A: I’m really not a scholar, so it’s hard for me to say those things. I think they both have quite a bit to do with one another. I am particularly fond of songs when you can hear both genres within each other. I’m a jazzer not a blueser, so when we do blues it’s going to have a lot of jazz in it because of the players you have. And the players I play with are definitely jazz musicians and there’s definitely no question about that.
Paula E: You’ve mentioned, “You love the way the blues lets you testify.” Did you grow up listening to blues artists as well as jazz artists?
Karrin A: I would say more Rhythm & Blues (R&B) artists like Aretha Franklin, Al Green and a little bit of James Brown.
Paula E: Well they can definitely testify!
Karrin A: Also, let’s say Anita Baker…she’s not exactly a blues artist but more a pop artist….
Paula E: Yes, she can definitely sing. We love her.
Karrin A: I’m not saying that I’ve listened to Muddy Waters all my life. Louis Armstrong had a lot of blues in his playing and I listened to a lot of his recordings. Also there was Coco Taylor, W.C. Handy, etc. … and I could take their kind of blues thing and do something with it.
Paula E: Well Karrin, you REALLY have done something with it on IN BLUE! Do you plan to finish up your tour with this particular ensemble? If not, who are the members of your touring group?
Karrin A: Well, I always bring Danny and I’m mostly traveling with my Kansas City players these days– Todd Strait, Bob Bowman both played with me on FROM PARIS TO RIO. But in some of the West Coast cities, I’ll have different players.
Paula E: I’ll tell you, I’m really enjoying your musical growth Karrin and here’s to your continued success with IN BLUE. Thank you so much for the interview.
Karrin A: Thank you.
Interview courtesy of Sounds of Timeless Jazz