“She’s been described as a “musician’s musician, …a complete performance by a complete artist —and for once the overused term actually makes sense — a complete artist, one of the jazz world’s finest.”
— Don Heckman, The Los Angeles Times.
Karrin Allyson was born in Great Bend, Kansas; her father was a Lutheran minister and her mother was a psychotherapist, teacher and classical pianist. She grew up in Omaha, and spent her senior high school year in Oakland, CA. In her youth she studied classical piano, sang at her local church and in musical theatre, and also began songwriting.
Allyson attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha on a classical piano scholarship; she majored in classical piano and minored in French. In addition to her classical-music studies at university, Allyson was lead singer for her own all-female rock band, Tomboy. She also developed an avid interest in jazz, performing both in a jazz swing choir at UNO and in her own jazz ensemble, which had gigs at various Omaha venues.
After graduating from UNO in 1986, Allyson moved to Minneapolis, and concentrated on her jazz career. In 1990, she moved to Kansas City, where her jazz career took off. In 1992 she recorded her debut album, I Didn’t Know About You, which was so well received it was re-released on Concord Records in 1993.She subsequently recorded eight more Concord-released albums in Kansas City. In 1998, she moved to New York City with her longtime partner, classical music radio host Bill McGlaughlin, whom she met in Kansas City in the early 1990s.
Allyson sings in English, French, and Portuguese. The four of Allyson’s albums that have received GRAMMY® nominations are — Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (2001), Footprints (2006), Imagina: Songs of Brasil (2008), and ‘Round Midnight (2011). Allyson tours extensively, both in the United States and internationally.
I met Karrin in the early 80’s, when we were both hanging out at Kilgores, which hosted a jazz jam on Tuesday night. We became close, and we’ve been dear friends ever since.
I emailed her FIVE QUESTIONS to which she said “I love this– 10 questions WITHIN one !! :)) Here goes:”
1) How old were you when you first remember loving to sing? Do you remember the setting/song? Were you encouraged to sing? What came earlier for you, piano or voice? At what age would you begin a child singing? Introduction to the piano?
KA – I think I was about 5 or 6… but I played piano first (and still do) My Mom was my first teacher (she was a very accomplished classical pianist) and she was also the children’s choir director in our church, so she says she could always count on me to open my mouth and sing! Yes I was encouraged by my family and later my friends. I started buying sheet music to my favorite songs on the radio and playing and singing them for family & friends… a little encouragement goes a long way when you’re a ham. I didn’t ‘discover’ jazz really until College through class mates, but then I was hooked.
2) How do you stay motivated and inspired to create and perform? How do you maintain your desire for the business of show business? What inspires you?
KA – There are days when I’m not as motivated as others! But…. I am convinced that I have a real drive to succeed… and that has different meanings for different people. In this business, if one can make a LIVING at it– you’re very lucky and I do feel lucky but I also work every day at it in some way– doing something to propel it and me forward. A healthy sense of humor is a must, as is the ability to try to laugh at oneself… it’s difficult to not take some things personally though, but eventually you get over/ through it. Music and making music is obviously very important to me but I also have other interests and responsibilities…. to my family and friends, to Mother Nature, social responsibilities, and to myself to take time off occasionally.
3) Speak about practice, and keeping the voice in shape. How do you do that everyday? Do you sing everyday? What is your routine? How do you stay healthy meeting so many people? How do you guard against getting sick?
KA – I’ve never been an avid ‘practicer’ … I know some instrumentalists who say they could and do spend hours practicing— as a vocalist (primarily) and since I’m on the road so much, it’s imperative that I REST my voice when I can– that’s very challenging as we use it in just about everything we do when NOT singing! I often say I wish I could put my voice aside in a ‘case’ or in a warmish, wet, quiet and safe place until I need it to just sing. But of course, I do practice and for me that means either playing tunes I perform, going through some of my book (which is quite large) and getting those tunes under my fingers, sometimes singing with them (especially when I’m just learning them) … and for me, taking walks is a great way to internalize ideas and music. Getting sleep is so important, drinking lots of water… I do take some supplements and I love to exercise, walk, do pilates, be outdoors when possible. That’s a great way to keep your immune system healthy. Stress is a killer so we have to find ways to un=wind and relax… But I also love to hang out at times– it’s part of this music! And it’s hard to ‘come down’ after a gig and often it’s later in the evening, so our hours can be quite different. So– it’s always a balancing act and hopefully we listen to our own bodies.
4) You’re very stylish and chic. How do you shop with such a busy schedule? How do you keep your hairstyle so fresh and lovely? What about physically? What’s your health regime? What do you eat to maintain your physique?
KA – Well, I really don’t feel ‘stylish and chic’ … but thank you! My ‘style’ is quite eclectic– mostly it’s very important to feel comfortable on stage / or just in front of people in general… Because the Music is the paramount thing and one cannot be thinking about ‘wardrobe’ etc when downbeat happens. My sisters and Mom and a few friends, (like YOU, 🙂 and my nieces now!) help me out too– I’m not big into designers, just good looking stuff. I love to eat– anyone who knows me will tell you that! Fortunately I don’t have food allergies and reallylove ALL kinds of food– But again, I’m quite active so– that helps but we all have challenges in that regard. My hair…. well, I’ve had the same guy for almost as long as I’ve lived in NYC (14 years) and I love him! It’s pretty easy thankfully.
5) Talk about the future. What are your goals personally and professionally short – term? Long-term?
KA – I am writing more of my own music lately, and my goal is to put it out there! I have started to perform more of it and am getting very positive responses= And always my goal is to communicate with my players and to our audience.