by Luke Baumgarten & r & In the interest of complete disclosure: Yes, we featured the Spokane Jazz Orchestra in our Fall Arts Preview last year. They were putting out their first recording in 35 years. It merited coverage. Yes, we're featuring them again this year. That may seem unfair. In the interest of disclosure, it probably is. In our defense, we have a very good reason. Karrin Allyson.
How can we -- for the sake of mere equality -- pass up highlighting what might be the best young jazz vocalist in the country? We can't, and we're sorry if your community jazz ensemble feels left out, but the SJO got Karrin Allyson. And they're ecstatic.
"She's really making a name for herself and getting rave reviews," says Dan Keberle, SJO's director. That's not hyperbole. In addition to her two Grammy nominations, The New York Times has called Allyson "one of the most charismatic figures on tour today." She has showed startling range, brilliantly executing several jazz albums, a blues album and a complete reimagining of John Coltrane's Ballads. This concert will be a treat for Spokane's jazz faithful.
In jazz, born of improvisation and participation, where you play is almost as important as what is played and who is playing it -- which is why the SJO plays its shows at the Met, says Keberle.
"It's the most intimate," he says. "There's no dance floor, but people really move to the music. We can see them, and they can see that we see them." It's always exciting, he says, for the guest artists SJO brings. "Almost half the audience is right up in their face, close enough to touch."
The first set will be the band alone, but the bulk of the Sept. 30 concert will feature Ms. Allyson. Her set list will include "Lover Man," "All or Nothing at All," "Them There Eyes" and "I Concentrate on You," among others. Keberle says he wouldn't be surprised if some New Orleans-themed songs found their way into the show as well. For her part, Allyson has been deeply affected by the tragedy there, which was the birthplace of jazz and the blues. Much of that emotion is anger and outrage, directed at the same bureaucratic incompetence as everyone else's anger and outrage is directed at. The disaster also, she says, makes it all the more important for her to "reach people in a positive way through [music], to create beauty and connect with people." Beauty to offset the sadness and death and torment, in a way -- kind of like what jazz and the blues have always sought to do.
In the words of Wynton Marsalis last week, it's about "never giving tragedy the last word." So it seems that, even as the physical city is verging on collapse, the spirit of New Orleans will live on, in the songs of Marsalis, Allyson and in our own Spokane Jazz Orchestra.
The Spokane Jazz Orchestra plays with Karrin Allyson on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 pm at the Met. Call: 325-SEAT.