As a singer, I feel very influenced by instrumentalists and by many classic instrumental songs, says Karrin Allyson
Born in Great Bend, Kansas, a prairie town on the Arkansas River, Allyson came of age in Omaha, where her parents (her father was a Lutheran minister and her mother was a psychologist, schoolteacher and classical pianist) moved when she was six. She became a serious classical piano student, eventually making it her major in college, where she first performed professionally, paying tuition as a singer-pianist on introspective 70s pop (Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Janis Ian) and on funk-rock repertoire with an all-female band. She caught the jazz bug from fellow students, and began to listen to Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk. She pored through books, and applied her lessons at local jam sessions. I got hit pretty hard, she says. I loved the beautiful stories in those songs, but quickly realized how exciting it was to be able to improvise and swing to vary tunes and suit your own style. Singing started to take first chair.
Allyson moved to Minneapolis, and developed her craft over the next three years. Then she answered a call for help from her uncle, Ron Schoonover, who owned the Phoenix, a jazz club in downtown Kansas City, and found himself suddenly without a singer. My father and grandfather talked him into giving me a test job, and I ended up moving there, Allyson recalls. Kansas City was very soulful, and it always felt like home. The Phoenix had music from 5 until 2, and different shifts of local players would come in. Musicians who were in the movie The Last Of The Blue Devils played there, and thats where I met the guys I still work with, like [bassist] Bob Bowman, [pianist] Paul Smith, [guitarists] Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman, and [drummer] Todd Strait. I became pretty much a fixture as a Kansas City bandleader, and kept a lot of people working. A New York City resident since 2000, Allyson projects throughout Footprints the blues-as-catharsis principle that underpins the Kansas City tradition.
The message for this new project, as in most great jazz, is optimistic and regenerative. I always refer to my CDs as my babies, Allyson says. This project is my tenth, and I’m especially proud of it. I was fortunate to work with some truly great collaborators, my idols, and together we gave birth to fabulous recording. The lyrics are like poetry and the music is so alive, energized.