“Send a message and tell a story”: Karrin Allyson At the Vermont Jazz Center Concert Review Part 4

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.


The Songs

Most of the songs were taken from Allyson’s 13 albums, with an emphasis on the most recent six. It was an education for any musician in pacing and flow. Karrin is a master at combining music and, like everything she does, is very thoughtful.

I found it to be really eye opening to see how important it was for her to have a flow and what I would call a pop music pacing.

The next song usually started while the audience was still applauding the next one. She focuses especially on beginnings and endings of songs, communicating with the musicians the tempo and feel with her whole body. Karrin once told an interviewer, “live you have to switch from style to style on a dime, and it’s not always successful, especially with bebop – time is everything, really. But say you’ve finished Moanin’and you’re going to do a bebop song, the tempo is important because if you’re spitting out words, like on Joy Spring, you want to be able to make your words understandable.”

How did Karrin fall in love with those great songs she picked to sing? She once said in an interview, “if it’s a great melody or if the lyrics are happening – and maybe it’s not both – you’re lucky if it’s both. If it has a meaning, one that everyone can get, or if it has a meaning to you and you hope to portray it for others, also the storytelling qualities, and the messages.”

Since she is so focused on the songs it was a fascinating study to note what she sang. Here’s approximately what she played in what order with my notes on each song. I also tried to list what album of hers the song appeared on for those of you who want to explore what you heard and loved further as well as add in quotes that fit from different interviews she’s done.

Set One

A Felicidade (Happiness) – Also the first song from her Imagina: Songs Of Brasil album.

Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, with Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moreas and English words translated by Susannah McCorkle, a singer who can be compared favorably to Karrin.

She sang the Portuguese words first, then English, just her and guitar then the band came in with her using rhythm eggs as shakers. She finished the song with the Portuguese words again.

“It’s a real live consideration…youre thinking about what tune you want to start with, which is very important to get you going and connecting with the audience and your players. That’s important throughout the performance, but especially that first song. So yes, you definitely think, it’s not like I have to send a message and tell a story on this first song, I just want to get a flow going.” – K.A.

Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy, written by Mose Allison, the second song from her album In Blue – a bluesy number that started with just her and the bass.

She then moved to the piano to play and sing Turn Out the Stars by Bill Evans with words by Gene Lees, the first song from her ‘Round Midnight album with a solo in waltz time.

She stayed quiet with April, Come She Will by Paul Simon (arranged by Karrin).

I Found the Turnaround (Words to Hank Mobley’s “Turnaround”) from her album Footprints.

Chovendo Na Roseira (Double Rainbow) found on Imagina: Songs Of Brasil

Karrin started in Portuguese, just her voice and piano, then everyone came in. She then sang the English words written by Gene Lees. Chovendo is one of the few bossa nova songs written in driving waltz time. Karrin stretched it out with solos – piano solo first, then guitar, then piano and guitar trading phrases. Then she sang English words to the end with a scat ending.

I’m Always Chasing Rainbows from her ‘Round Midnight Album

“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” is a popular Vaudeville song from 1917. It uses the melody of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu’s middle section. It’s been recorded by hundreds of people, from Perry Como to Alice Cooper. Karrin doesn’t sing the introductory verse.

“I think that you might find a pretty even number of folks who know about it and those who don’t. I think more current jazzers may not know it and I think that the more seasoned ones would. The theme is from Chopin. It is from “Fantaisie-Impromptu,” and the composer took that, and there is actually a verse in it, which I didn’t include, “at the end of the rainbow there is happiness,” but I didn’t feel like it fit too well. I wanted to put that intro in there and outro if you will. That song I used to play, when I was doing piano bar type of things. Someone asked me to learn it and I got a lot of suggestions from folks that way and I still do, so I put it in my repertoire. That has been hovering about for a long time.” – K.A.

She ended the first set with the bluesy I Don’t Worry About a Thing by Mose Allison, a song that to the best of my knowledge she hasn’t recorded.

“I think they (jazz and blues) both have quite a bit to do with one another. I am particularly fond of songs when you can hear both genres within each other. I’m a jazzer not a blueser, so when we do blues it’s going to have a lot of jazz in it because of the players you have.” – K.A.

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

See Karrin Allyson live in the following YouTube clip

All You Need To Say (with Karrin Allyson)
Frequency Vocal Jazz Ensemble from MiraCosta College (Oceanside, CA) performing All You Need To Say (also known as Never Say Yes) with Karrin Allyson.

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