Jazz gets vocal tonight

For Karrin Alysson and Nancy King jazz is more than music, it's a way of life.

karrin allyson (photo credit: )
karrin allyson
(photo credit: )
Karrin Allyson is something of a renaissance artist, embracing so many genres within and around the jazz domain that it's sometimes hard to keep up. Next Friday (10 p.m.) the pianist will team up with her more senior jazz vocalist colleague Nancy King in the next installment of this year's Tel Aviv Opera House jazz series in Tel Aviv. Since her debut release in 1992, Allyson has attracted rave reviews right across the board for her expansive oeuvre. Her 2001 release Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane, for example, received two Grammy nominations and reached no. 2 on the Billbard jazz chart. She has also sung numbers in French and Portuguese - a new CD of Brazilian music, Imagina: Songs of Brasil - is due out this week, and she has fronted a symphony orchestra. It is an impressive track record whichever way you look at it. So how does she go about incorporating such a wide range of styles without losing her way? For Allyson it's all a matter of perspective, and keeping the basics in plain view. "When you're working for a living, when you're starting out doing one-nighters, playing and singing solo for five hours on the cocktail lounge circuit, you need variety, and you have to ingratiate yourself to the audience and make better tips," she says plainly. "I learned a lot from those days." Initially, 45-year-old Allyson dug the late-sixties, early-seventies folk-pop music she'd hear on the radio, with some soul and r&b thrown in. "I was into Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, James Taylor and Carole King. I started out doing covers and some of my own folksy stuff. I was also in an all-girl rock band. That caused something of stir. We did covers of guys like the Stones." You could add to that the fact that Allyson studied classical piano at the University of Nebraska and, as a child, was encouraged to perform recitals for church. Most would find it hard to reconcile the more structured world of classical music with the improvisational ethos of jazz. Allyson admits to having struggled with the dichotomy. "I started listening to jazz in college," she recalls. "I immersed myself in [bebop founding father pianist Thelonious] Monk, [saxophonist] Cannonball [Adderly], [Louis] Armstrong, [singer-pianist] Carmen McRae and [diva] Dina Washington. I compartmentalized the improvisation side while I got on with my classical studies." Allyson's improvisational yearnings were unwittingly helped by an artistic deficiency. "I was never a very good sight reader," she admits, "so jazz beckoned. I would play a lot by ear, and I would make up stuff, although I was not intentionally creative. I guess it was a matter of needs as must." For Allyson, jazz is a matter of getting down to brass tacks. "Even though I am an educated musician, I learned jazz on the job. I think you have to be honest, and be yourself. Jazz is more than just a musical genre, it's a way of life. Nancy has lived jazz all her life." Allyson and King have a close professional and personal relationship. "We've been great friends since we sang together on Footprints," says Allyson. "I think the audience in Israel will see and hear a lovefest when we hit the stage." 10 p.m., tonight (Friday), Tel Aviv Opera House, 19 Shaul Hamelech, (03) 692-7777, www.israel-opera.co.il