Karrin Allyson



by Martha Wade Steketee


The scene at Birdland this steamy July evening skews young—tables of college-aged pals, a large group of teens from Britain. The bubbling young crowd, perhaps here on a first visit to this venue, perhaps a first visit to the city, could perhaps have come on a lark, taking a chance on an unknown performer. Whatever brought them in this evening, all become stalwart fans of Karrin Allyson and her swinging musicians by the set’s conclusion.


I last experienced the musical stylings of Karrin Allyson several decades ago while I worked as a public policy analyst in Washington DC and she appeared in a northern Virginia venue more known for country music balladeers than jazzy song stylists. Now some years and several cities later, Allyson scats and vocalizes her way through jazz standards as well as bops with a bossa nova beat to Jobim, accompanied by Miro Sprague on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums. Allyson takes her turn at the piano on a few tunes too, maintaining a slow, contemplative musical mood, punctuating her scat with bop and wit.


Allyson embraces the enchanting rhythms and the dreamy possibilities of “Happy Talk” (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein) in long, slow phrases. “How you gonna have a dream come true” indeed.


Duke Ellington is her willing guide on several tunes. Allyson puts her arms around Duke Ellington’s standard “Sophisticated Lady” creating a quiet, gentle mood in a wash and heartbeat of rhythm. And “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues” (Duke Ellington and Don George) offers lyrical fun and stylistic possibilities. Allyson’s focused, charming, solid jazz stylings with a quirky rough vocal delivery fit these set choices perfectly.


One of her original tunes, “Home,” evokes long-left home towns, for the travelers among us. She welcomes all into her band family who she describes as “all Midwesterns at heart” and who can also say “we’re home now” after feeling that human search, “longing to be home.” A few additional original Allyson tunes have lyrics that range from French to what sounds like Portuguese. Another gorgeous tune “As Long As You Love Me,” beautifully breaks my heart, with a solemn, country-western sensibility.


And Allyson again lands firmly among the standards with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific, with Allyson at the piano.


I hope each performance in the balance of this engagement was as welcoming, warm, musically solid, delightfully varied as the show I attended. I’m so glad I’ve found Karrin Allyson once again.



Karrin Allyson performed June 18-22, 8:30 & 11pm at Birdland (315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.birdlandjazz.com