When I heard that my favorite jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson — at Jazz Alley Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 3-6 — was making a Christmas album, I thought, “Oh, no, her record label asked her to do this.”
Dead wrong, on all counts.
“I’ve always wanted to do a holiday CD,” Allyson said in a phone interview last weekend from the Jersey shore, where she and her husband were having a family celebration across the Hudson from their Manhattan home. “I like Christmas and I like holiday music. I’ve been asked a lot by my fans when I was going to do one. So here it is. I’m excited about it.”
“Yuletide Hideaway” doesn’t come out till Nov. 1, but you’ll probably be able to twist Allyson’s arm for a preview of some of the material at the Alley. The album features some originals as well as “a couple of chestnuts,” she said, “literally.” So yes, “The Christmas Song,” with its roasting chestnuts is part of the package, as are “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow.” She also does the Dave Frishberg composition, “Snowbound,” and some traditional carols.
An even bigger surprise is that Allyson will be releasing “Yuletide Hideaway” herself. With her contract at Concord up this year and a new one yet to be negotiated, Allyson decided to go it alone for a while.
“I feel like I’m starting a whole new chapter,” said Allyson, who has recorded a dozen albums for Concord over the past two decades, garnering three Grammy nominations.
I was just playing one last night, in fact, “Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane,” as a companion piece to a new biography of vocalist Johnny Hartman, whom Allyson nods to on that album. But there are so many good ones to choose from, with Allyson’s fetchingly hoarse voice always perfectly pitched and her phrasing so in tune with the meaning of a lyric.
During this label interregnum, Allyson is also working on another new album.
“It’s not even a jazz project, more of a pop crossover project,” she said. “Original tunes with a backbeat. Yeah! We just have the scratch tracks on those now. We recorded 19 songs in a day-and-a-half in a studio in L.A.”
Allyson keeps a folder of ideas for new projects. It now has 20 ideas in it. But she won’t have much time next year to get to many of them, what with touring the two new albums and also being part of Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein’s “Newport 60” touring group, which celebrates the festival’s 60th birthday. Other artists on that prestigious gig include reed player Anat Cohen, guitarist Mark Whitfield and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The group starts touring in February and will be on the road for several months.
“It’s nice for me,” Allyson said, “because I’m just a part of the band. I’m not the leader. I don’t have to arrange everything. I feel like Anat and I are going to be great friends. We have a lot in common. We even showed up one day with the same shirt on. It was so funny.”
Originally from Kansas City, Allyson has gathered a loyal following over the years, if not a breakthrough album. Last time she was here she joked on stage that she is probably best known for her version of te Brazilian song, “O Pato” — “about quacking like a duck.”
But you have to have a sense of humor to survive in jazz. That’s why Allyson got a pretty good laugh when Down Beat magazine recently left a message saying she had been voted by critics as the best “up and coming vocalist.”
Her Seattle fans, of course, who come out strong for her every year, know she already up and came a long time ago. And she’s on her way here again.
Allyson performs at Jazz Alley with Rod Fleeman (guitar), Jeff Johnson (bass) and Todd Strait (drums).
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 3-6 and 7:30 and 9;30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5, Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $24.50 (206-441-9729 or www.jazzalley.com)