Karrin Allyson is a very talented 5 - time Grammy nominated jazz singer from Nebraska. After completing her collegiate studies at University of Nebraska Omaha, she moved to Minneapolis to concentrate on her jazz career. She eventually made a move to the big jazz town of Kansas City, and things began to happen for Karrin's musical career. The first thing Karrin did was surround herself with top notch musicians and this led to performances at the area's best jazz venues. Realizing she needed a musical product to network herself, she took the band into the recording studio to self - produce her first album. This move paid quick dividends, as the disc found its way to San Francisco radio and eventually the owner of a fine jazz label, Concord records. This was the catalyst to a career where Karin now travels the world to perform, and has produced over 11 albums. Karrin has also earned 4 Grammy nominations and she is currently up for her 5th for her latest release "Many a New Day". I recently chatted with Karrin about her exceptional career.
R.V.B. - Hello Karrin... this is Rob von Bernewitz from Long Island. Good morning... how are you today?
K.A. - Good morning. I'm fine thanks... and you?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. Are you staying warm?
K.A. - I am, and it's a little better today. I'm in Massachusetts right now... I live in New York and it's a little colder up here.
R.V.B. - I can imagine. Congratulations on your Grammy nominated new album "Many a New Day". I sampled a few tracks on it and I liked them. It's a very good piece. How did you enjoy doing those songs from classic American songbook?
K.A. - I was discovering a lot of different things in them, when I was looking at them to record. Often when I make arrangements, I sit down at the piano and try to figure out new ways to do things... a way that might fit me personally. It was fun to do "You Got To Be Carefully Taught" in more of a blues fashion... "Can't Say No" in kind of a Casbah feel. I wrote a new line to "Happy Talk"... the be-bop song that we start with. I think those things make them a little bit more "new" to us. (haha)
K.A. - Right. Michael Leonhart... my producer, was the first set of ears, besides my sweetheart... my husband. (haha) Michael came over and we looked at them together and tweaked them a little bit. Then we showed them to Kenny and John. Kenny came over twice for rehearsal and then John joined us once. We went into the studio and did it in two days.
R.V.B. - Wow, that's pretty quick. I guess it's a good thing to bounce it off your husband... "Honey, does this work?" (haha) That's like the first line of defense.
K.A. - (haha) Fortunately, he's a caring pair of ears. His name is Bill Mcglaughlin and he's a classical music radio host. He's a classical musician himself, and he's heard my stuff for years.
R.V.B. - You met him in Kansas City?
K.A. - Yes I did. He's from the Kansas City Symphony. He was a conductor.
R.V.B. - So he has a classical background and you have a jazz background.
K.A. - I have a classical background also. I studied classical piano in school.
R.V.B. - So you grew up in Nebraska. What was it like there when you were growing up?
K.A. - I was happy there... I had my beautiful family. I'm a real mid-western person. I liked the mid-west. I spent a lot of time in Kansas City. I was born in Kansas. I also spent time in California... in my senior year of high school. I've been to Minneapolis. I feel more like a global citizen because I've been traveling forever.
R.V.B. - Your mother was a classical player... did she start you at a very young age?
K.A. - Yes she did. I was around 5.
R.V.B. - I gather you took piano lessons.
K.A. - Right.
R.V.B. When you got into the school years, did you participate in the school music programs?
K.A. - Not really. I was taking private classical lessons. I did learn a little about improvisation then but I was too young to know it. When I was in high school in California, I was in a couple of plays. One of them was South Pacific.
R.V.B. - You went to college on a scholarship, so you must have been a fairly good pianist?
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy your years at the University of Nebraska?
K.A. - I liked them a lot. I thought it was a very good school for me. It didn't have a huge music program at the time. Now it's quite extensive. The jazz program is real extensive. I'm kind of a famous alumni there... it's kind of sweet. I go back on occasions and perform with the student orchestra... even the faculty sometimes. UNO (University of Nebraska - Ohmaha) was a good school for me.
R.V.B. - Tell me a little bit about the band that you had there "Tomboy".
K.A. - When I was in college, one of my classmates... Therese... she was in the percussion department... she said there was an ad in the paper for an all girls rock and roll band. She said "I'm going to try out. You should too". I wasn't really into rock and roll. I was into the singer/songwriter stuff. At that point, I was learning about jazz, classical music, and folk music a little bit, but I tried out and I made it. It was really a blast. We had a really great time and we are still friends to this day. We had a great performing experience. We piled in a car and drove two to three hours for these weird little gigs. We had a manager and we wrote our own music. He wrote some music and we had a 45. (haha)
R.V.B. - Do you still have a copy of that I hope.
K.A. - I doooo! (haha)
R.V.B. - Was that an all original band or did you do some covers also?
K.A. - We did covers as well. It was probably half and half.
R.V.B. - Can you give me an example of some of the covers that you may have played?
K.A. - Oh goodness... we did some Go-Go's. We also did Rolling Stones. We did anything that was danceable... "Satisfaction", "Vacation". I played the part of Bonnie Raitt. I sang a couple of her songs in the band.
R.V.B. - Oh, you did some of the bluesy songs.
R.V.B. - So you really got your start in Kansas City, which is really a jazz town, with Count Basie coming from there and a lot of other famous jazz musicians. How did it come about for you to record your first album "I don't Know About You"?
K.A. - Once I had moved to Kansas City, and was playing 5 to 6 nights a week, I was very fortunate to come across these wonderful players like: Bob Bowman, Todd Straight, Danny Embrey, Rod Fleeman... I still work with Rod and some of the others to this day... Kansas City Paul Smith. People were asking me if I had any music to sell, from the bandstand. I didn't, so I though "Let me go into the studio". I borrowed some money from my family and friends. We went into the studio, and we made this record. I was performing at a club in Kansas City and a woman came up and said "Do you have a CD"? I said "It's not ready yet but we had been in the studio. Give me your address and I'll let you know". I did that, and sent her the CD to San Francisco. She sent it to a man named Stan Dunn, who had a radio program out there on KJAZ at the time. He had the 6 to 11 slot, in the morning session. He was very cool about playing new musicians. He played my music and we started to get calls to see how they could get it. Then it turned out that he was the west coast promoter for Concord Records. I called him to thank him for playing it and he said "I'd like to introduce you to Carl Jefferson. He's the owner and president of Concord Records." He wound up buying my first record off of me... I had already put it out. We just moved on from there.
R.V.B. - That's great that you were a go-getter and you made things happen for yourself. You're still with Concord right?
K.A. - Actually, no I'm not. A couple of years ago I did a holiday CD on my own, and now I'm with Motema. The Rogers and Hammerstein project is with Motema, but all of the other albums are with Concord. I have 4 Grammy nominations with Concord.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on that. Why did you pick up and move to New York City?
K.A. - "Cause you gotta go to New York". (haha) I've been there for about 15 years now and I really love New York. I had worked there many times before I moved there, but I'm kind of glad I waited until I did. I'm glad I didn't go when I was a young, young thing. I was more ready for it. New York is where everything is happening. It's not that there not happening everywhere else too, but as you know, it's the hub.
R.V.B. - There's plenty of places to play... lots of culture... and lots of people to go out and see it.
K.A. - Exactly. It's not just the jazz as you say... It's the whole diversity and culture. It's a great place. I travel a lot, so I'm not there 365 days a year, but that is where I live... It's home.
R.V.B. - Speaking about traveling, do you have any gigs abroad that really stand out?
R.V.B. - Were there any venues that you really liked playing at?
K.A. - Festivals are really cool. The San Javier - Spain festival stands out in my mind. In Paris, there's a place that we play called "Duc Des Lombards", which is really sweet. Birdland in New York City is one of my favorites. Seattle, Chicago, everywhere. (haha) Anywhere they put a good show on and we can make good contact with the audience.
R.V.B. - Do you have a touring band that you use?
K.A. - It varies, with myself at the piano and my guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer.
R.V.B. - Who is the most consistent member?
K.A. - Rod Fleeman... my guitarist. We've been playing together for over 20 years. He's on a lot of my records. He's the most consistent these days. Bruce Barth is also a fabulous pianist that I work with. I take him sometimes. The drummer Adam Cruz, is somebody that I have been working with quite frequently. Ed Howard on bass. I love to play with a wonderful Bass player in Seattle, Jeff Johnson.
R.V.B. - You surround yourself with some excellent musicians.
R.V.B. I notice that you sing in different languages. Did you learn these languages when you were going to school?
K.A. - I took French. French was my minor. I sing in two other languages besides English. I sing in French and in Portuguese. I've always been a Francofile and thought I'd live in France one day. Someday maybe I will. With Portuguese... the Brazilian stuff came through the music. I had a tutor when I did the CD "From Paris to Rio" and "Imagena". Speaking of interesting places... Brazil is very interesting. I love Brazil.
R.V.B. - As far as you current Grammy nomination... there's a couple of days involved with that right?
K.A. - Your right. The day before is really a lot of fun because there's Lifetime Achievement awards. Last time I went, I got to see Glen Campbell, Diana Ross, and Gregg Allman, accept their lifetime achievement awards. You also get to hear them talk about their lives a bit. It's fascinating to see these major musical stars. That evening, there's also the Grammy nomination party, and all of the nominees can go. That's the night before all of the ceremonies happen. That's really sweet. The next day is the ceremony. The daytime stuff is non televised. That's when the jazz happens... classical... spoken work... Broadway stuff... and so on.
K.A. - Exactly... that's true. I remember the very first time I went I got to meet Bonnie Raitt. She was so nice to me. She said 'This is actually the really cool part of the day". She was right. This will be my 5th time going. After 4 hours of the daytime thing, you have an hour in between and then you go to the Staples Center, which is walkable... as you're in your gown and your tux... and have a hot dog. (hahaha) You really don't have time to go anywhere before the televised stage... and you're starving because you start at noon. The televised thing starts around 5.
R.V.B. - That's very funny.
K.A. - It's kind of bizarre. Then you sit and go to this televised thing. I have to admit, one year I didn't go to that part of it... I was tired. I went all the other times, and it's really fascinating to see the spectacle. It's a lot of fun... and the Grammy party happens afterwards.
R.V.B. - Are you performing anywhere these days?
K.A. - I'm performing a lot. Next week I'll be in New York City. There's a couple of jazz conferences going on. I'm performing a slot at Birdland. Then I go to Hawaii... I have two beautiful gigs there. My sister lives there, so I get to hang with her. Then I come back and do another gig in New York City... in Riverdale.
R.V.B. - I'll have to keep an eye out and come see you.
K.A. - You must.
R.V.B. - Thank you very much for spending this morning with me. I appreciate it. Good luck on your Grammy nomination... I hope you win.
K.A. - It's always fun to talk to somebody who's got a lot of spirit and knows what their talking about. I appreciate that.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Karrin Allyson visit her website www.karrin.com
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