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The New Cool: Karrin Allyson celebrates women, explores modern jazz on new album

Parker Miles Blohm
Karrin Allyson celebrates women's suffrage on her new album Shoulder to Shoulder.

Women musicians in jazz have, since the early days of the form, been mostly singers. Karrin Allyson, one of the finest singers in jazz, has gathered an all-female all-star ensemble for her new album. Shoulder to Shoulder: Centennial Tribute to Women's Suffrage is also marked by some very modern music.

It's hard to believe that only a century ago, women in the United States did not have the right to vote. While women's rights have come a long way in the 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Happily, today's women in jazz provided Allyson with plenty of fantastic players to choose from for this album.

Northwest natives Ingrid Jensen and Mindi Abair are featured on trumpet and saxophone, with Helen Sung, Endea Owens and Allison Miller on piano, bass and drums. Jensen's bright horn opens the album on "Preamble," with Miller's marching drums leading the band with a clip of a 1920 speech by Suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt discussing the long road that finally led to a woman's right to vote in the U.S.

Many special guests augment this impressive lineup, including strings and a choir of more than 40 women's rights activists. You'll also hear singers Madeleine Peyroux, Emily Estefan, Kurt Elling and violinist Regina Carter, among others.

Spoken word passages abound on Shoulder to Shoulder, with passages from Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass read by Roseanne Cash, Lalah Hathaway, Harry Belafonte, and Sony Music's general counsel Julie Swidler.

Most interesting is Karrin Allyson's efforts in a more modern vein on this new release. The album closer, "Big Discount," features acclaimed rapper and activist Rapsody, contributing verses that amplify the song's message. It's a tale of the continuing fight for wage disparity between genders. Allyson's satire advances, then ultimately rejects the unreasonable excuses for discriminating against women.

It's an effective reminder of how far the women's rights movement still has to come, made more compelling by Rapsody's rhymes. "Penny for a thought, more than 30 every dollar," she observes, noting the fact that average wages pay women 70 cents to every dollar paid to a man.

The daughter of two politically active parents, Allyson says: “As a self-employed woman musician and band leader for my whole career, of course I’ve often felt the sting of inequality, and being discounted. For years I’ve felt that if we, as the whole human race, could reconcile and honestly face and fix the inequality between women and men, so many other problems would almost fix themselves … This seemingly ‘simple’ issue of voting is a right every human should have and use.” The full liner notes are worth your time.

The album’s collaborators hope to work with Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission in participating in a number of events and activities to celebrate the 100th anniversary, coming up April 20. You'll hear the rap-infused "Big Discount" on The New Cool this Saturday. Until then, enjoy this pared down version from Allyson's most recent visit to the KNKX studios about a year ago.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.