“Drawing Attention to the Song”: Karrin Allyson At the Vermont Jazz Center Concert Review Part 2

Here’s part of a concert review I wrote of the great jazz singer Karrin Allyson. Most of you know that music is one of my primary passions (I even combine music with team building) and I find it very helpful to learn to be an artist of life and work by tracking musical artists. I hope you find some inspiration this week in what I tracked.


Building New Rooms in the House of Jazz

Allyson is continuing the tradition of using the voice in jazz, breaking new ground, expanding the territory – into hard bop and beyond. Something vital – a kind of baton – has been passed on to her – like a slow motion decades-long relay race. Here’s an example: one of my favorite singer albums is Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley. There are only seven vocal cuts on it (the first seven) but what a seven! The album is then finished out with five instrumental Cannonball Adderley band songs. Out of those five, she sang new words (written by Chris Caswell) to two them – Teaneck and Never Say Yes. In an interview she said, “”As a singer, I feel very influenced by instrumentalists and by many classic instrumental songs”, says Karrin Allyson. “Its tricky to put lyrics to the great, iconic tunes, because you want to do them justice.” Many singers rest on an audience’s nostalgia. Not Karrin – it’s as if she’s building new rooms in a lovely house.

Feeling the Lyrics

It’s a delight to see that Karrin really feels the lyrics. Singers have two powerful paths to move an audience – both the sound of their voice as an instrument and the words they sing. It’s a rare singer that can leverage these two powerful tools – Karrin is able to do that. A statement she once made about making albums also applies to individual songs. “It is about diving in whole hearted to whatever theme I’m looking at.”

The Musician Who Sings

It may have something to do with her past. Most of my favorite jazz singers also play an instrument. Karrin is no exception. Her training as a classical pianist has given her a grounding in harmony that brings a depth that can only be earned. She has the connection to the notes she sings that an instrumentalist has. She is a musician that sings, as opposed to a singer.

What I mean by that is that she is playing music that transcends her (wonderful) instrument. As a musician that plays harmonica, I see the same distinction between a harmonica player and a musician that plays harmonica or a guitar player vs. a musician that plays guitar. Pat Metheny notes this distinction in his introduction to Randy Vincent’s instructional book Three-Note Voicings and Beyond by calling Vincent a ‘musician who plays guitar’. Karrin’s music transcends the instrument – a musician who sings. To me, it’s easy to tell one from the other. Just ask yourself, “where is the attention being drawn to – the song or the instrument?” In an interview Karrin affirms this saying, “I don’t try and draw attention to myself particularly, I try to draw attention to the song, the music, and my players.”

Stay tuned for more about the great Karrin Allyson next time!

See Karrin Allyson live in the following YouTube clips

Nancy King & Karrin Allyson in Tel Aviv 

Nancy King & Karrin Allyson Live In Israel 

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