Karrin Allyson: Jazz Singer, Jazz Presenter
Listeners to Jazz a la Mode know that Karrin Allyson has long been a favorite of mine and that her Concord Jazz releases have been staples of the show for the past 20 years. The Valley got a bonus a few years ago when the Kansas City native began living part-time in the area, and I’ve applauded the efforts she's made since her arrival to present concerts that showcase her peers, among them Sheila Jordan, Gary Smulyan, Bruce Barth, Rebecca Parris, Brad Hatfield, Rod Fleeman, Gene Bertoncini and, most recently, the outstanding yet under-appreciated Oakland-based singer, Kenny Washington.
(Julie Glassberg for The New York Times) (Kenny Washington)
Karrin and Kenny, accompanied by pianist Jim Argiro and bassist David Wertman, gave a brilliant display of the art of jazz singing two weeks ago at the Unitarian Meetinghouse in Northampton. Jazz essentials--great tunes, good vibes, the sound of surprise, spare yet effective blue notes-- were in evidence all night. In a spontaneous performance of "Ornithology," their call-and-response scat singing evoked the Charlie Parker original while Allyson's timely insertion of the lyrics of "How High the Moon," the tune on which it's based, broke the high-wire tension. Washington hushed the crowd and raised the goose flesh with his reading of "Invitation," the haunting Bronislaw Kaper theme that he recorded four years ago with saxophonist Michael O'Neill.
(Jim Argiro, Karrin Allyson, Kenny Washington, David Wertman; photo: Suzanna Smith))
Next time around, wherever it happens to be, don't miss Mr. Washington. Here's another example of his ballad artistry on "Verrazano Moon," which he sang with vibraphonist Joe Locke last January at Dizzy's.
Karrin will be back in town on Wednesday, June 27 for her second appearance at Watermelon Wednesdays, the summer concert series that takes place in the West Whately Chapel. Between her Northampton and Whately dates, she spent last week at Birdland and earned this fine review from Stephen Holden in the New York Times. I took issue with Holden's rave for Paul McCartney's Standards record this year, but I thought he assessed Allyson's excellence quite nicely yesterday:
“A hallmark of Ms. Allyson’s performances is her casual attitude toward phrasing and interpretation. In her unstudied approach she is a cheerful, gamin roustabout hanging out with the guys. Jazz singing is for fun, not for carving statements in stone, although she put some weight behind her duet with the bassist Ed Howard on '’Round Midnight’… Ms. Allyson is also sexy. But in her original blues song, 'Sweet Home Cookin’ Man,' for which she commandeered the piano, the innuendo was minimal. [She] knows when to improvise and when not to. 'Joy Spring' elicited a scat solo that amplified the song’s euphoria. Underneath [her] sweetness is a core of toughness, which revealed itself in the Blossom Dearie hit 'Bye-Bye Country Boy'."
Join me for Friday's Jazz a la Mode where I'll preview Karrin's appearance at the country corner of Conway and Williamsburg Roads in West Whately, MA.