Sunday, November 20, 2011
Karrin Allyson: The Plastic Sax Interview
Plastic Sax recently conducted an email interview with Karrin Allyson. The unedited transcript follows. Allyson performs at Jardine's on November 28-29 at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Plastic Sax: What are your memories of living in Kansas City? Are there any KC-based musicians you wish you could play with more often?
Karrin Allyson: I don't know where to start with memories of KC! When I first got there (via Minneapolis then) I was 'commuting' from Mpls to KC --to play at my uncle's club (Ron Schoonover) the Phoenix. It became a full time job for me, so I moved and met wonderful players like: Rod Fleeman, Bob Bowman, Danny Embrey, Paul Smith, Todd Strait, Gerald Spaits, Tommy Ruskin, Russ Long, Milt Abel, Mike Metheny, The Scamps, Richard Ross, Julie Turner, Stan Kessler, Doug Auwarter, Kim Park, Carol Comer, Joe Cartwright, David Basse and many more-- Also this is where I met Bill McGlaughlin who was then the KC Symphony conductor. These are also all musicians I'd love to work with again.
PS: You've had a long working relationship with guitarist Rod Fleeman. What does he mean to you?
KA: Rod makes EVERYBODY sound better! He is a true poet on that guitar and musically, is game for just about anything. He's un-failingly supportive and sweet.
PS: There's a catch in your voice, a sort of scratchy texture that adds to the emotional resonance of your singing. Is that something you deliberately control or does it just happen?
KA: I'm afraid that just happens.
PS: The composer and drummer Matt Wilson recently spent some time in your band. How did that come about? Can you name a few additional prominent musicians with whom you'd like to work?
KA: I've known about Matt for quite awhile and always admired his original approach. He's featured on the latest CD 'Round Midnight although, it certainly wouldn't be considered a 'drum feature' project. He helps me tell the 'story' as do all the players I choose. I've worked with wonderful drummers; Todd Strait, Lewis Nash, Joe LaBarbera, Mark Walker, Eric Montzka, and Matt- but I find that is the hardest 'chair' to fill in my band-- our repertoire is VERY varied, so he/she must come with many styles under his/her belt and let the music breathe.
PS: I enjoyed seeing the photos you posted to Facebook from your recent European tour. Did you have as much fun as it seemed? Is Europe your strongest market?
KA: At times, being on the road is just as fun as 'it looks' :) but at other times, it is not-- it can be very tiring. But usually the people and the music lift you up. I would not say Europe is my strongest market-- but we're working on it! I love going there.
PS: As an obsessive music nerd, I'm often infuriated when inconsiderate chatter interferes with my appreciation of a live performance. Even so, your insistence on a strict no-talking policy at your shows has raised eyebrows. Why did you decide to take a severe stance?
KA: This is not something I 'chose' to do -- whenever I'm in the audience, I feel drawn to the music and that is why I came. It's important to not only show respect for the artists, but also your fellow audience members. There are plenty of other places folks can go to talk and hang out and I am one of them often! But it's so much better when in live performances, the listeners and the players are connected in the music.
PS: The version of "April Come She Will" on your new 'Round Midnight album contains elements of folk, cabaret, pop and jazz. It's difficult to discern where one form ends and another begins. Do you concern yourself with distinctions of this nature?
KA: Not really.
PS: I was initially dismayed to discover that 'Round Midnight includes "Send In the Clowns." Most renditions of the song are simply awful. Yours is an exception. What's your favorite version? And speaking of torch/saloon songs, who are your favorite artists in that realm?
KA: "Send in the Clowns" is a song I've been doing for years, on & off as I've been in many different 'musical worlds' throughout my career. We experimented with several ways of doing this, and Rod came up with beautiful chord changes and we decided on a very slow 'bossa' feel to help let it breathe. I don't really think of my favorite singers as being 'torch' or 'jazz' or 'pop' etc but of course we all have our approaches. Each tune has its own as well!
PS: It's my theory that jazz is experiencing an artistic renaissance even as the audience for jazz continues to contract. Do you agree?
KA: I honestly never know how to answer this question. I do know that jazz is STILL alive and well and the business of it always changes.... I feel very lucky to make a living at what I love to do.
PS: Beena told me that you'll be performing with Rod Fleeman, Gerald Spaits and Randy Weinstein at Jardine's. What's up with the harmonica?
KA: Hmnmn, what's up with the harmonica? Ask Toots Thielemans! The harmonica for me can be kind of a 'chameleon' in that, it sounds great on the blues (of course) and also be-bop (in the hands of a good player like Randy who plays CHROMATIC harmonica) standards, and also that 'exotic' sound we like to add with brazilian and french music. Randy is from KC, and has played on several of our earlier KC recordings.... I've always loved his style and he's very loose and game for anything.