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Truth, Tradition & Karrin Allyson

By Published: April 26, 2006
However, Allyson says her "idol" is Portland-based jazz singer Nancy King. A fearless improviser with an eccentric, in the best sense of the word, repertoire, King has built a substantial reputation over the last few decades despite having been virtually ignored by jazz record labels and the jazz press. 'she is, I think, one of the best singers that ever walked the planet."

One lesson Karrin Allyson learned from all her influences is about the endless possibilities of this music. "Jazz singing," she notes, "is a huge world in which to choose interpretation and material. You can take any tune and do it in a jazz way." Which is exactly what Allyson does. She estimates that she knows "probably a couple thousand tunes." However, it misses the point to call Allyson's repertoire "eclectic." Her style draws together nearly all of the major musical ideas that have shaped vocal jazz in the last 80 years and, in the process, redefines existing notions of "traditional" jazz singing.

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto and Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim ensured that the intersection of Brazilian and American popular music would not simply be another musical fad. The songs of Jobim, Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento may not be part of the Great American Songbook, but they are certainly an indispensable part of the standard repertoire. Allyson's first five CDs all contained Brazilian tunes and she immersed herself in the music for 1999's From Paris to Rio. She notes that audiences respond strongly to this repertoire. "There's an exoticism to the material. It takes them to another place. It's not only the rhythms, though I think that's the first thing that hits the listener."

The Brazilian songbook has also held an especially strong appeal for American vocalists. Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Mark Murphy, Rosemary Clooney and Susannah McCorkle have all devoted entire albums to the music. Allyson believes part of that interest comes from the challenge presented by the repertoire. "It's quite complicated stuff," she says, 'sort of deceptively simple." However, Allyson handles it with real sophistication usually singing the material's original Portuguese lyrics. She cites the legendary Brazilian singers Elis Regina and Nara Le?o as important influences. Although she has explored much of the familiar Jobim catalog, including particularly lovely versions of "Insensatez" and "Corcovado," on From Paris to Rio Allyson dug deeper into the Brazilian tradition for material rarely heard north of the equator.

As the album title suggests, From Paris to Rio also explored Allyson's interest in French chanson. The standard repertoire has co-opted a number of Gallic melodies over the years including "Autumn Leaves" and "I Wish You Love," and even Pops recorded "La Vie En Rose." However, Allyson, who speaks fluent French, has not had to limit herself to just those melodies with English lyrics. "I'm in love with other languages," she notes.

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