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, Karrin traveled to thirty 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).” Featuring 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, Karrin 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.”
While home for Karrin is now New York City, she still tours two days out of three. An upcoming benefit concert at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) offers listeners the opportunity to hear her perform some of the “gorgeous melodies,” as she puts it, on her new album, as well as other songs in her generous repertoire, accompanied by guitarist Steve Cardenas.
Along with their melodies, Karrin has long appreciated how “the near-perfect lyrics” of Rogers and Hammerstein also “speak about, or at least infer justice issues,” and her upcoming concert, “Chansons pour le Congo III,” is her third on behalf of Woman, Cradle of Abundance, a non-profit organization founded by Congolese women to empower women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their fight against violence and poverty through education, counseling, medical and support services, and economic independence. Working with its American 501(c)3 partner founded by Prof. Elsie McKee and friends in Princeton, NJ, Woman, Cradle of Abundance funds counseling for survivors of rape and forced prostitution, medical care for women and children with HIV/AIDS, micro-credit projects, school fees for orphans, and a sewing school for girls.
The concert will be followed by a reception where Karrin will be signing copies of “Many a New Day” and previous albums. Clothing and other items made at the sewing school at Woman, Cradle of Abundance will also be displayed for purchase.
$70 for adults, $50 for seniors, $30 for students; TCNJ special rates. Tickets are tax-deductible at 80% of face value. For information on charities, tickets, and sponsorships, call 609-683-5157. To purchase a copy of “Many a New Day,” go to: www.karrinallyson.com
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: AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
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: The Ling-Ju Yen question: 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: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?
KA: My family.
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 is your guiltiest pleasure?
KA: Chicken wings.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
KA: A sense of humor and creativity
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KA: Work hard, enjoy life.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
KA: As someone who made a positive difference.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
KA: Geez! A Met museum membership, World Wildlife Fund membership, credit cards…
KW: Thanks again for the time, Karrin and best of luck with the new album.