Take Five With Jackie Allen

Take Five With Jackie Allen

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Meet Jackie Allen: Critically acclaimed vocalist, songwriter and Blue Note recording artist Jackie Allen celebrates the release of her ninth album, Starry Night, live with chamber orchestra. Her CD features star-themed songs arranged by seven extraordinary arrangers who have written for such legendary artists as Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Doc Severinson, Bobby McFerrin, and Diana Krall.

Her three previous albums Tangled, Love Is Blue and The Men In My Life have received glowing reviews. The Los Angeles Times remarked that "Allen's greatest strength is her sheer musicality and the way in which she both frames and interprets her song." Billboard Magazine calls "her gift utterly distinctive and even innovative—a masterpiece. It's revelatory and sounds effortless." People Magazine declares Jackie's performance is "expressive, bright, dramatic, sassy, tender. Download this!"

Jackie has performed multiple tours of the US, Europe, Morocco, Brazil, China and Taiwan. She currently teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Jackie has served multiple terms as a Board of Governors for the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards). She now resides in Indiana with her husband and bassist Hans Sturm with their son Wolfgang.

Instrument(s): Voice.

Teachers and/or influences? I've listened to countless vocalists and have been influenced by a lot of them. Jazz notables are: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Mark Murphy, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Scott, Shirley Horn, Etta Jones and Cassandra Wilson. Pop and folk notables include: Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I saw Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan in the early '80s back-to-back on a Friday and Saturday at the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee.

Your sound and approach to music: I love this music because I can make it my own, even if I didn't write it. I let my imagination and the lyric guide the arrangements as well as the musicians around me.

Your teaching approach: I assess a student's level and work from there. Singers often come to basic theory and keyboard skills late, since they have used their ears to get them pretty far. I try to give them skills to find quality charts, transpose, play the chord progression, learn the original melody and find a way to interpret the song for themselves.

Your dream band: I really dig the guys I'm working with right now—John Moulder: guitar; Mike Kocour: piano; Hans Sturm: bass; Dane Richeson: drums. We just finished our fourth album together and I have another one I'm working on. I can't imagine a group I feel more comfortable with.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: I was a guest artist singing with a university ensemble in Wisconsin in the early '90s when, during the dress rehearsal the pianist, a resident professor who was playing right behind me, collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. Under the stage lights in the theater stood the students and the conductor who was a long-time fellow colleague, frozen. It all seemed quite surreal. Needless to say the concert was cancelled, and after the two hour drive back to Chicago I found I couldn't just go home so I sat in at a club and shared the news to a stunned audience.

Favorite venue: In Taiwan we played a concert at an all-girls college and they responded to us as if we were a rock act, screaming and cheering. It was quite a surprise as well afterward signing autographs for hundreds of young enthusiastic girls.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Each recording I've done is very special to me and marks a place in my (and the bands) musical development. That said, I might say that The Men In My Life stands out because it was the first album where I invested my own money and where I first used my existing band. It also marks a turning point for me where I started getting away from the classic jazz vocal repertoire and allowed myself to take songs that were popular from my own youth and find a way to express myself through them.

The first Jazz album I bought was: I don't remember exactly but early ones included Miles Davis' Star People, Ella Fitzgerald's Live at Newport, Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley and Pat Metheny's Still Life (Talking).

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? It would have to be the teaching aspect, passing this music on to another generation is important but I never think of it that way as I'm doing it. It's just fun to interact and share music. It's where I often get my own inspiration.

CDs you are listening to now: Anything by Ivan Lins, lately I've been going back to listen to Mark Murphy since I heard he is suffering from Alzheimers, and Louis Prima (my son digs him).

Desert Island picks:
Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley (Capitol);
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now (Nonesuch);
Astor Piazzolla, Zero Hour (I.R.S.);
Joao Gilberto, Amoroso/Brazil (Warner Archives);
Shirley Horn, You Won't Forget Me (Verve).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? The music and musicians are always inspiring, no matter the era, but the loss of jazz stations across the country, clubs and festivals going under because of the economy and lack of support (underwriters and fans alike) is making our unique American art form more of a rarity.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Support National Public Radio. Take someone to a jazz concert who's never been. Listening to live jazz will make a convert out of most.

What is in the near future? We just released Starry Night, my first live recording and first recording with orchestra. Touring this kind of program is quite new for me and the band since we are working with different orchestras and conductors around the country.

By Day: I chase my five year-old son.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: A chef or a gardener.

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