Born in the Midwest, four-time Grammy nominee Karrin Allyson has always been on the move.
School in the Bay Area and a degree in classical piano and performance led to Minneapolis and on to Kansas City, where she signed her first contract with Concord Jazz. Thirteen albums followed, with performances at clubs, concert venues, and major jazz festivals in the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Japan and many major cities in Europe. In 2014, Allyson traveled to 30 cities across the U.S. and Canada as a solo vocalist with the Newport – Now 60 Tour, which concluded at the Newport Jazz Festival. Her independently-produced holiday album, “Yuletide Hideaway,” followed just in time for the holidays, and won four stars from Downbeat.
Long known for a remarkable versatility as well as the depth of her performances, the vocalist-pianist-composer-bandleader has now moved on to Motema Music and a new album, “Many a New Day (Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein).” The project features Kenny Barron on piano and John Patitucci on bass in an intimate interpretation of beloved classics and lesser-known works. While the album is yet another first in her career, Allyson finds herself powerfully drawn to the world of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
“I’ve been all around the world musically, from bop and bossa and chanson to blues and singer-songwriters. And now, I feel like coming home,” said Allyson.
Kam Williams: Hi Karrin, thanks for the interview.
Karrin Allyson: Glad to do it, Kam.
KW: What interested you in doing an album of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics?
KA: I grew up with these songs, and about a year ago I saw an American Masters program on PBS about Oscar Hammerstein, and it hit me what a decent human being he was and how he was able to communicate issues of justice in his lyrics, and romance, of course. Couple that with Rodgers’ amazing melodies.
KW: They have such a vast songbook to pick from. How did you decide which tunes to include?
KA: Of course I’ve always had my favorites, but I watched several DVDs and went through all my music books and made a list, then started to weed them out – especially from “South Pacific.” In high school, I played Nellie Forbush, but I also wanted to choose songs not so often heard, at least in the jazz idiom, like “Can’t Say No” and “Out of My Dreams.”
KW: Is it just me, or do they no longer write Broadway show tunes that are as catchy and as socially-conscious as Rodgers and Hammerstein did in their day?
KA: I’m not qualified to answer that, really, ’cause I’m so out of that scene. There have got to be some out there.
KW: Which of their songs is your favorite?
KA: That usually depends on the night or day I’m singing.
KW: How did you come to collaborate with John Patitucci and the legendary Kenny Barron? Had you already decided on arrangements where you’d only be accompanied by piano and bass?
KA: I sought Kenny out first, as I’ve always wanted to work with him, and John was on my “Ballads (Remembering John Coltrane)” record. He added such beautiful stuff. I knew he’d be great on this, too, and the pairing of the two seemed just right. They are consummate.
KW: Your upcoming concert is a benefit for Woman, Cradle of Abundance. How did you develop an interest in this cause?
KA: My parents are liberals and have worked for justice issues throughout their lives. My mom was the first feminist I knew and continues to inspire me in that way.
KW: What’s the solution to the crisis?
KA: Education and getting the point across to the world that women’s issues are human issues.
KW: (A reader) asks what was the last book you read?
KA: I just finished “Unaccustomed Earth,” a collection of wonderful short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.
KW: (Another reader’s question), what was the last song you listened to?
KA: A Beethoven symphony!
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
KA: Chicken, rice, black beans … my “go to” with greens.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
KA: Yes, of course. I grew up in the Lutheran church. My dad, grandfather and uncle were pastors, and my mom and grandmother did much of the music for their churches. But nature is my most spiritual inspiration.
KW: (A reader asked) what is your earliest childhood memory?
KA: Wow, you’re thorough. Playing outside, I think.
KW: What was your very first job?
KA: I cleaned offices, then I started to teach piano lessons. Around 18 years old, I was making a living with music.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
KA: Truly, equality and love of all for Mother Earth.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KA: Work hard, enjoy life.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
KA: As someone who made a positive difference.