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The Arts

Have voice, will travel

Vocalist Karrin Allyson, who has performed for audiences around the world, comes to the Vermont Jazz Center

Tickets for Karrin Allyson at the Vermont Jazz Center, 74 Cotton Mill Hill, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 16, are $20 general admission; $15 with student identification. (Ask VJC about educational discounts.) Tickets are available at In the Moment in Brattleboro and Reserve tickets by calling the VJC ticket line at 802-254-9088, ext. 1.

BRATTLEBORO—Jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson explains what brings her to the Vermont Jazz Center (VJC) on Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m., in concert with, “A World Tour in a Single Night.”

“In a word, work,” she said, laughing.

“That’s my job, to go where the people want me. I travel around the world for concerts. I just did a wedding in Beirut that was really amazing. And often you don’t know until the last minute where you might have to go,” she said.

“I have concerts pending in a couple of weeks at music festivals in both Russia and China. This jazz business is not for the faint of heart. You really have to be dedicated to the music and to your audiences,” she said.

Allyson will be performing at VJC with with Steve Cardenas on guitar, George Kaye on acoustic bass, and Todd Strait on drums. Tickets are $20 general admission or $15 with student identification.

Allyson has recorded 13 original studio albums, all under the Concord Jazz label, and earned four Grammy nominations along the way.

She’s regarded as among the top vocalists in jazz today. Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times describes her as “a musician’s musician, and for once the overused term actually makes sense...”

Allyson lives in New York City, and has performed at top stages around the world, including major jazz festivals in Brazil, Japan, Australia and Europe, as well as the most legendary venues in the United States, including regular appearances at New York’s Blue Note and Birdland.

This will be Allyson’s first time singing at VJC, which she got to know along with its director, Eugene Uman, through her love of community in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, where she has a “getaway house.”

“I’m thrilled Eugene is such nice man, and plays piano beautifully,” she said.

A diverse artist, Allyson sings in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish.

Her songs are drawn from bossa nova, blues, bebop, samba, jazz standards, and other jazz modalities, as well as ballads, pop standards, the Great American Songbook, soft rock, and folk rock.

She has also recorded vocal performances of several instrumental jazz compositions, using both scat and vocalese techniques.

According to Wikipedia, vocalese is a style or genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation.

In “Wild For You” (2004), she even performs jazz takes on Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Elton John.

Allyson grew up in Omaha, Kansas, where her father was a Lutheran minister, and her mother was a psychotherapist, teacher and classical pianist. Allyson studied classical piano, sang at her local church and in musical theater, and also began writing songs.

In college, where she studied classical piano, she also was lead singer for her own all-girl rock band, Tomboy.

She developed an avid interest in jazz, performing both in her college’s jazz swing choir and in her own jazz ensemble. In 1990, she moved to Kansas City, where she began her recording career with Concord Jazz.

“I always liked to sing,” she says. “I was never too shy. You see I’m a bit of ham. I have a great commitment to the music I play, but I do like to have a little humor in my concerts also.”

Allyson believes that jazz should not be rigidly intellectual, but spiritual and soulful — and fun.

“Bonnie Raitt, one of my idols, told me when I got to meet her at the Grammy Awards, ‘We do it for love. That is the best part.’”

“The Grammy Awards are a little silly,” she says. “I don’t mean that I don’t appreciate them. I consider it a great honor to have been four-times nominated for the Grammy. But the extravaganza, the big televised show, seems a little overblown.”

She said that jazz artists get their awards not during the televised show, but earlier in the day, along with winners in classical, spoken word, and other “less popular” genres.

“At least nowadays, this ceremony can be streamed on your computer. Jazz artists almost never perform on the nighttime show. However, I do remember a time when Ella [Fitzgerald] and Mel Torme actually sang as they gave awards. Talk about seeing pros in action,” she said.

Allyson says she picks different material when she performs for different audiences or at different venues.

“Not everything is right for every audience,” she says, “I don’t have a set concert I take with me when I go performing. When I decide what to do at a specific place, like here in Vermont, I take into consideration where I’m playing, such as the size of the hall and its acoustics. I like variety in my shows, and so I choose from blues, ballads, bebop, and pop.”

She says how she puts a show together “always turns out to be loose, but still well-thought out. I don’t like to do the same thing twice. When I recently performed at Blue Note, where the club turns its audience over during the evening, I do two shows a night, and each of those were very different from each other.

“The places where I perform can vary a lot. I have performed to very small crowds at private parties. I have appeared at venues like here at VJC, bigger at Birdland, which is the largest jazz club in NYC, or the 92nd Street Y, which is bigger still.

“Yet no matter how big the space, I still try to make the music feel intimate. I learned this from great artists whom I have had the honor to see: jazz legends like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan or Carmen McRae, who had the gift to always to make you feel they are singing to just you.”

The one thing Allyson says she dislikes about critics is when when they go out their way to point out, “Oh, you sound like so-and so.”

“Reference points are fine, but in the end, as an artist, you struggle to find your own voice,” Allyson says.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #194 (Wednesday, March 13, 2013).

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