Think Blue

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Feeling blue?  So is Grammy nominated jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson on her latest CD “In Blue,” released on Concord Records in 2002.  She isn’t feeling blue, however, about the fact that the album spent several months in the Billboard Jazz Top 20 following its release, or that it spent a record-breaking five weeks at the top of the Jazzweek radio charts..  This coming Sunday and Monday, she will be performing songs from “In Blue,” together with a collection of jazz standards, at the Jazz and Blues Company in Carmel ’s Crossroads shopping center.

Karrin Allyson was born in Great Bend , Kansas , and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and Omaha , Nebraska .  As a child, she studied classical piano, and eventually graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in Piano.  She moved to Kansas City , where she took a job singing at a nightclub owned by her uncle.  She quickly gained a reputation locally for her performances, and in 1992 she signed to the Concord Jazz label.  Her debut album for Concord , “I Didn’t Know About You,” was extremely well-received and led to her being listed in Playboy magazine’s Annual Readers’ Poll alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Horn.

The success of her debut led to some prestigious engagements for Allyson, including the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland , the Lionel Hampton Jazz Room in Paris and the transatlantic cruise ship QE2.  She also performed at an all-star tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at New York ’s Carnegie Hall.  Allyson followed “I Didn’t Know About You” with several other releases including 1999’s “From Paris to Rio ,” on which she sang in both French and Portuguese, and 2001’s “Ballads – Remembering John Coltrane,” which was nominated for two Grammy Awards including Best Jazz Vocal Album.

For her most recent release, Allyson visited the blues, but gave it her own jazzy spin.  “When I first thought about doing a ‘blues album’ it was hard to describe to people,” she said. “In specific musical terms, the blues have a ‘form’—whether it be the typical 12-bar blues, minor blues, blues with a bridge, etc. This album is not a ‘traditional blues album’ but rather, it’s a collection of tunes I love, that have to do with having the blues—no matter what the form.” The end result is an eclectic collection of tunes by writers as diverse as George and Ira Gershwin and Joni Mitchell.  Time magazine described the album as “perfect for late-night listening,” and indeed the sound of Allyson’s voice immediately transports the listener to a dimly-lit jazz club in the small hours.

Karrin Allyson will be joined at her Carmel performances this week by guitarist Danny Embrey, who has worked with her for over a decade and co-produced her first CD, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Todd Strait .  The shows represent one of only two stops in California before she moves on to dates at Washington DC ’s Kennedy Center , New York ’s Carnegie Hall and a tour of Australia .

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, October 30, 2003

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