March 9, 2017 by Helen Borgers

Karrin Allyson

Photo by By Ray Pioggia (used by permission from Karrin Allyson)

Karrin celebrates the release of her latest album

Karrin is a versatile performer. She can belt out the blues, scat up a storm, deliver a compelling story at any tempo, and sing in three languages (English, Portuguese, and French).  Jazz writers and critics have pointed out her ability to sing both cool and hot:

The Village Voice — Gary Giddins:

“Allyson coolly stakes her claim. She brings a timbre that is part ice and part grain — incisive, original, and emotionally convincing.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES — Stephen Holden:

“Sweet Core, Steely Edge,”  Karrin Allyson at Birdland


Little Boat (with Danny Embrey, guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Frank Chastenier, piano; Gregg Field, drums) 

While primarily a singer, she has taken to accompanying herself at the piano more and more often, switching off with her keyboard player, Miro Sprague, who also plays Fender Rhodes when Karrin plays the acoustic piano. And, while the bulk of her enormous repertoire is made up of songs written by others, she has been writing for years and is bolder than ever now about singing her own songs.  


“Sweet Home Cookin’ Man,” words and music by Karrin Allyson

Karrin received her Bachelor’s degree in classical piano, but her friends hipped her to jazz while she was in college. She started out singing with the school’s big band, but soon formed small groups of her own.

Her 15 albums show her on-going musical explorations, from composers such as Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Horace Silver, and bop classics such as “Parisian Thoroughfare,” “Line for Lyons,” “Joy Spring,” “Fried Bananas,” “Jordu,” and many others, none of which are standard fare for vocalists.  

“Donna Lee” from Daydream, with Gary Burton on vibes and Kim Park on alto

She revisited John Coltrane’s Ballads album, bringing an achingly personal interpretation of the lyrics to those songs Trane made his own instrumentally.  And, inspired by the popular singer/songwriters who were on the radio when Karrin was growing up, she has sung the songs of Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and Simon & Garfunkel, among other pop artists over the years.


“All I Want” from Wild for You (song by Joni Mitchell)



“All or Nothing at All”  from Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane


She is especially attracted to songs that have a message, something universal to say, which, interestingly, brought her to the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Karrin reminded me that The King and I revolves around the influence of a strong woman, and how she teaches the king that his attitudes need adjusting.  Also, that South Pacific grapples with controversial issues, and Ado Annie in Oklahoma is a “girl in charge,” who knows what she wants in spite of what society dictates.


“I Cain’t Say No,” from Karrin’s latest album, Many a New Day

Her current tour includes many of the songs from her new disc, but also features audience favorites, such as songs from her Brazilian outings, some originals, and inevitably, some blues.


“I DON’T WORRY ABOUT A THING,” (song by Mose Allison)

Always surrounded by heavyweight instrumental talent with whom she has no trouble keeping up, for this tour, Karrin has Miro Sprague with her, along with guitarist Larry Koonse, and bassist Jeff Johnson.

Miro is a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute, who has already toured the world with giants such as Wayne Shorter, and accompanied singers such as Sheila Jordan and Sara Gazarek.  Jeff’s credits include work with a wide array of players, from Chet Baker and Sonny Stitt to Claudio Roditti and Houston Person. These days, he is regularly in the company of Hal Galper.  And Larry is well known to L.A. audiences, being based here and playing with so many great musicians, such as Hubert Laws, Billy Childs, Tierney Sutton, and Bob Mintzer.

In conclusion, an evening with Karrin Allyson is a special event, an eclectic musical journey, full of reflection and humor, and lots of surprises.  She’ll be in Hollywood for three nights only – March 24th through the 26th, one show per night.  Since she lives in New York and travels internationally, we don’t get her out in L.A. very often. If you get a chance to go, don’t miss it!  

Details about the gig are on her website: karrin.com.


"Robert Frost" from Collage (song by Jay Leonhart)


On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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