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Artist gives lyrics to old tunes

Instrumental jazz by Coltrane, Silver gets fresh take by singer

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Smooth, natural fit. Lyrics are intelligent and sound as if they could have been originally written for each tune. High marks for creative concepts, craftsmanship and fun listenability.

Sometimes singers are described as "instrumental" in their style, but jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson takes that to a whole new level with her album, "Footprints."

"'Footprints' is a group of what are thought to be instrumental tunes that are pretty well-known just as instrumentals, and we put words to them," said Allyson. "I've always wanted to sing these tunes, but they never had any words that I knew of."

It started, she said, a couple of years ago when she got together with lyricist Chris Caswell to write some original songs together. She mentioned that she was interested in doing some classic instrumental jazz tunes with lyrics, and Caswell said, "Let me try them."

The result is a CD of such tunes as Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," John Coltrane's "Lightning" and "Equinox," Horace Silver's "Strollin'," and several tunes by Cannonball Adderly. "Like anything, you just kind of try to make it your own and tell a story with it. Each one is its own challenge. Mostly, you're hoping that the lyrics fit the idea of the tune, and I guess that they do, so it's my job to sort of tell the story through the new lyrics and great melodies."

Allyson is joined by vocalists Jon Hendricks and Nancy King on the album. "I love Nancy, she's amazing," said Allyson. "She's been a great friend for several years, but really is my idol, and I think she does a beautiful job of sort of just being my horn player, as she says — harmonizing with me. And, obviously, she sings on her own on the album, too.

"And Jon Hendricks also, obviously, has many, many lyrics written to instrumental tunes. He's really a pioneer of that. I've just been a huge fan of his for years."

Released earlier this year, "Footprints" quickly found itself at the top of the playlist for radio stations. "It was No. 1 on the jazz charts for eight or nine weeks, I think."

When Allyson comes to Salt Lake City, she'll be drawing from "Footprints," but she also plans to do a mix of material. "We have 10 CDs out with Concord records, and there's a lot of material that we've recorded — aside from stuff that we like to play, and maybe new stuff that we might be working on. So it's pretty eclectic, but I think a lot of it will be from 'Footprints."'

Allyson said she got started in music on the piano and majored in classical-piano performance in college. "I was pretty serious about it but also liked to sing on my own. I never really studied voice, per se, but then I discovered jazz in a college class.

"Before that I was doing some folk/pop tunes for my own enjoyment. I'd go out and get the sheet music to popular tunes that were playing on the radio those days, like Carly Simon songs or Joni Mitchell songs or James Taylor. We actually did an album of those kinds of songs right before Footprints — it's called 'Wild For You.' So we included that era of my life into our recording discography.

"Then jazz pretty much took over the repertoire that I was doing. I started to get involved in improvisation, and it pretty much took off from there."

She moved to Minneapolis for a few years and then to Kansas City, where she became a fixture in the jazz scene. It was in Kansas City that she met guitarist Rod Fleeman, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Todd Strait, who will be joining her when she comes to Salt Lake City.

Allyson is now based in New York, although she travels frequently. At the time of the interview, she was in Washington, D.C., where she's doing a four-night run at Blues Alley.

CD review

Title: "Footprints"

Singer: Karrin Allyson

Label: Concord Jazz

Price: $18.98

***1/2.

If you go ...

What: Karrin Allyson

Where: Sheraton City Centre Ballroom, 150 W. 500 South

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25

Phone: 278-0411

Also: Preconcert lecture, 6 p.m.


E-mail: rcline@desnews.com