Before & After: Karrin Allyson

I met vocalist Karrin Allyson for this B&A just before her sold-out appearance at the Kennedy Center. Like an experienced road warrior, she arrived in town without a moment to spare, gave herself a minute to put her bags in her room, and then joined me for this in-depth listening session. She was relieved that she didn’t have to give stars for each record.

1. Maxine Sullivan
“Massachusetts” (from A Tribute To Andy Razaf, DCC Jazz). Recorded in 1956. Sullivan, vocals; Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Jerome Richardson, saxophone; Dick Hyman, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; Osie Johnson, drums.

BEFORE: Well, I guess it’s Ella, but it sure didn’t sound like her at first. [listens more] No, I don’t know this voice. It sounds like the 1940s. It’s delightful. She’s great-her time, her personality. I mean she swings like crazy. Whoever she is I love her. Wonderful swinging band behind her. I’m stumped. Never heard the tune, either. She has a little of Ella’s sound to her. Cool.

AFTER: Yeah, this is a singer I need to know more about. A lot of folks that I admire love her too. She sounds very classic to me. Like if anyone asked what a jazz singer sounds like, I’d put her on. It’s so swinging and her pitch is great.

2.  Janis Siegel
“You Don’t Know Me” (from Friday Night Special, TELARC). Recorded in 2002. Siegel, vocal; Russell Malone, guitar; Houston Person, tenor saxophone.

BEFORE: [after the first chorus] Is that Janis Siegel? Interestingly enough, I just heard her sit in with [pianist] Bruce Barth last week. We’re so used to hearing her with Manhattan Transfer, and I’ve only heard her sing by herself that one time. Beautiful, clear voice.  It’s sweeter than you’d think of a jazz singer sounding. It’s almost more of a cabaret sound. That’s not an insult, Janis [laughter], cause it’s a beautiful sound. Is the tenor player Houston? I love his playing and I loved Etta Jones very much. He’s a great player. Is the guitarist Bucky? Howard Alden?

AFTER: Oh, I should have thought of Russell. I dig that. That’s nice. I like her approach. She seems to really care about the music, which is a big thing. And she’s a very nice person, too, which goes a long way with me. Nice instrumentation. I like that idea of mixing it up and not just having the typical piano trio plus singer plus tenor player. I like this tune, though I’ve never done it. My grandmother loves it, so I should learn it.

3. Bill Henderson
“My How The Time Goes By” (from Bill Henderson Sings (Best of), Suite Beat). Recorded in 1961. Henderson, vocals; accompanied by the Thad Jones Orchestra.

BEFORE: [starts to sway in time] Is that Jay McShann? That vibrato sounds like him. I should know this voice. I love this band, they’re great. They’re not in a hurry, it’s solid with a nice full sound. And they’re not too excitable. You can hear the rhythm section. It’s a pet peeve with me when you can only hear the horns. I don’t know who the singer is but I really like him. It’s not Joe Turner, I know that. Is it the Basie band? They have a real nice sense of dynamics and evenness of tone, rather than just slashing out at you all the time. This guy’s time is great. It’s hard to sing this simply. It sounds simple, what he’s doing, but it’s not. I think a lot of singers fill up the space or sustain too much, but this guy doesn‘t. Oh, he’s got an interesting vibrato too. Cool. I love that.

AFTER: That’s great. I should write these down so I can go get them. Bill Henderson is a singer I’ve heard of but am not familiar with, so shame on me. That’s not modern but it sounds current. Yeah, it definitely holds up. It’s a real nice groovy thing. He’s paying attention to the lyric. He’s almost speaking to you rather than singing at you, so the conversational aspect of it is appealing to me ‘cause it really drives the lyric and the feeling of the lyric home.

4. Patricia Barber
“You Gotta Go Home” (from Verse, Blue Note). Recorded in 2002. Barber, vocal, piano; Michael Arnopol, bass; Neal Alger, guitar; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Eric Montzka, drums.

BEFORE: [immediately] Patricia Barber. This is from her recent record. All her tunes, right? I like her. There’s a modern sound that she gets, and these are modern tunes. Is this her piano too? Any singer who plays an instrument gets my respect, cause I know what that takes. It gives you a better understanding of how music works. And it also helps your creative process.

AFTER: I admire the seriousness with which Patricia approaches her music. This hits me more on an intellectual level rather than on a soulful level, but I haven‘t heard the whole record. I only met her once at the Green Mill in Chicago. She’s got beautiful intonation. I like her stuff.

5.  Black Orpheus
“Manha De Carnaval” (from Black Orpheus: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Verve). Recorded in 1959. Elizeth Cardoso, vocal; unidentified guitarist.

BEFORE: [sighs] Beautiful. I know it’s Portuguese, but [the vocal style] almost sounds Spanish. No, she’s Brazilian. Beautiful. It’s an older recording, probably from the ‘50s. She’s got such ease with her voice, it’s like a classical singer, but I know it’s not. I love the guitar but I don’t think she’s playing, is she?

AFTER: Oooh, I should get this, it’s gorgeous. The Portuguese language is so beautiful. I’m a language freak and this was such a beautiful film. The first time I saw the film the music hit me right away. It’s infectious, and it paints such a picture for me. I love the chord changes in Brazilian music, every aspect of it is advanced. It has its own tradition, with its time and phrasing. You need to try and approach it with authenticity, immerse yourself in it, and go there if you have to. Great choice.

6. The Boswell Sisters
“It’s The Girl” (from The Boswell Sisters Collection Vol. 1, Collector’s Classics). Recorded in 1931. Martha, Connie & Helvetia Boswell, vocals; Mannie Klein, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet; Joe Venuti, violin; Arthur Schutt, piano; Eddie Lang, guitar; Joe Tarto, bass; Stan King, drums.

BEFORE: [chuckles] It’s the sisters, the somebody sisters. It’s the 20s or 30s. It’s great, the harmonies are right on. There are three of them. Their time is great, too. It’s a different structure of time. They’re right in the center of the beat. It reminds me of cartoon music. It’s not something that I’d put on for my own pleasure particularly, but there’s a lot to admire about it. [laughs at the tag ending]. Cute!

AFTER: They’re very good. I think I read that Connie [Boswell] was a big influence on Ella. Yeah, cool. It’s fun. The challenge for that kind of harmony thing is pitch, time and blend.

7. Jimmy Scott
“On Broadway” (from The Source, Label M). Recorded in 1969. Scott, vocal; Junior Mance, piano; Eric Gale, guitar; Billy Butler, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Bruno Carr, drums; Cissy Houston, vocal obligato; arranged by Arif Mardin.

BEFORE: [after the first chorus] Jimmy Scott. He’s such a unique artist. He always takes his time with tunes, kind of like Shirley Horn. And this is an interesting way to approach this tune. This is a cool version. You believe him when he sings this. He’s not overdoing it. Yeah, he’s not in any hurry, it teaches me something. He’s a very soulful singer. I’ve never met him, but I want to. You can really hear his life being lived through his music.

AFTER: Oh, Junior Mance? I love Junior. Jimmy is really an artist. I gotta go see him.

8. William Parker
“The Watermelon Song” (from Raining On The Moon, Thirsty Ear). Recorded in 2001. William Parker, bass; Rob Brown, alto saxophone; Louis Barnes, trumpet; Hamid Drake, drums; Leena Conquest, vocal.

BEFORE: Huh! Is that Dianne Reeves? It’s a fun tune. I like mixed meters. It sounds like a modern, quirky instrumental tune that they wanted the singer to sing on. Like Matt Wilson, or somebody like that. The kind of thing you’d hear at Small’s or Tonic. I really dig it. It’s fun. I couldn’t hear her very well, she’s a little low in the mix for my taste.

AFTER: I don’t know William Parker. Leena Conquest? Cool. Great name. [laughter] I’d like to have that name. I don’t know about these folks, but I would tell young musicians to check out the avant-garde and all that interactive music. We need this stuff. It would be fun for me to stray more and do stuff like that. I might need a lot of wine, though! [laughter]

9. Jay Clayton
“Wild Is The Wind” (from Beautiful Love, Sunnyside). Recorded in 1994. Clayton, vocal; Fred Hersch, piano.

BEFORE: [immediately] I love this tune. Jay Clayton? She sounds beautiful. That’s Fred Hersch. This just makes me want to cry. So beautiful. It’s really hitting me right now [wipes away tears]. I know of her experimental stuff, and I recognize the sound of her voice. It’s a nice, mature dark sound, and she’s got real deep sense of the song, of life, and that comes through her music. And Fred too. I took one piano lesson from Fred. I love his playing and I’d love to work with him. He’s sensitive and gives the singer space and makes them comfortable. I’m sure he knows every lyric to every song. His harmonies are really pretty, so that inspires you. And he takes his time and obviously loves ballads.

AFTER: Yeah, the way she sings this is so pretty. Like beautiful poetry. It’s a sensual thing. Wonderful.

10. Eva Cassidy
“Fields of Gold” (from Live At Blues Alley, CBD Records). Recorded in 1996. Cassidy, vocal, guitar; Keith Grimes, electric guitar; Chris Biondo, electric bass.

BEFORE: Eva Cassidy. Beautiful voice: very clear, sincere, heartfelt. That’s something that can’t be taught. I don’t think she’s a jazz singer necessarily, but a great pop singer. What a loss. I like this tune too. Sting, right? It’s mostly the melody, I’ve never paid much attention to the lyric all the way through.

AFTER: Those songs, like that Sting song, would be nice to add to our repertoire. They’re fun because it’s another approach to singing. It’s nice to just sort of open up and sing like that, to just sing the melody like it is and not have to worry about other things. I grew up with Carly Simon, Carol King, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell of course, Roberta Flack, Janis Ian and all those songs. I love those tunes. But it only works if you really love it. You’ve got be sincere, you can’t do it for commercial reasons just to draw a crowd.

11. Helen Merrill
“Baltimore Oriole” (from The Feeling Is Mutual, Gitanes). Recorded in 1965. Merrill, vocal; Thad Jones, cornet; Jim Hall, guitar; Dick Katz, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Arnie Wise, drums.

BEFORE: Shelia Jordan? It’s an interesting song, isn’t it? It’s layered. Cool arrangement. It’s older, maybe in the ’60s or something? It’s a great band. Almost sounded like Freddie Hubbard, cause it’s a dark, fat sound. Who is this?

AFTER: Another singer, like Maxine Sullivan, that I should know more about. Ron Carter? Cool arrangement. Not too much vibrato. How you use the vibrato is one of the things that differentiates a jazz singer from a pop singer. The arrangement is so modern, so layered. It’s got a lot of things going on. You could listen to this 10 times in a row and find new, cool stuff happening. I should write this down and get that. I like your taste in music.

12. Claudia Acuña
“Nature Boy” (from Rhythm of Life, Verve). Recorded in 2001. Acuña, vocal; Avi Leibovich, flute; Jason Lindner, piano; Dave Holland, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Luisito Quintero, percussion; arranged by Acuña and Lindner.

BEFORE: Claudia Acuña? My sister has this record. I recognize her from the sound of her voice and the trace of her accent. Interesting. I’d like to see her live sometime. I don’t have a sense of her style. I love this song and I guess I’m not crazy about this version. It just seems to be trying too hard to me. It’s a very personal thing, and I’m sure she might listen to something I do and say the same thing.

AFTER: I don’t know. I give it lots of credit for being interesting. I’m not sure I’d know what she’s saying if I didn’t know the tune. The quality of her voice is lovely, I’m just not crazy about this treatment of the song. Taste is a very personal thing. Maybe seeing this live would be a different experience.

Your favorite records of all-time?

I love anything that Clifford Brown does; anything by Bill Evans or Nancy King, the Coltrane Ballads record, and the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley album is probably what drew me to this music.

This B&A was done Feb. 27, 2003.

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