A New Generation in Jazz

Jazz artist Allegra Levy’s voice has verve and warmth when she sings and composes such moving songs on her debut record LONELY CITY. Levy produced a follow-up album titled CITIES BETWEEN US. But her third release in 2018, LOOKING AT THE MOON was named an Editor’s Pick in both JazzTimes and Downbeat Magazine, according to Levy’s Website.

Music Makers Interview Allegra Levy 1
There are not many artists who would delve into penning tunes such as Noodles! as well as I Got A Boo-Boo, and other children’s songs that she gained while being employed in pre-school education in Manhattan. Levy creates moving songs and her new record, OUT OF THE QUESTION, features an all-female powerhouse trio, which includes Carmen Staaf on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass, and Colleen Clark on drums, with guest artist John McNeil contributing cameos on trumpet. In this interview Levy shares what drew her to jazz music and what makes the melodies artful on her current CD.

Jupiter Index: Talk about what drew you toward Jazz music? Which artists did you discover that were important to you? And what did you discover in their playing styles?
Allegra Levy: I grew up in a town where they had a focus on jazz education starting in Middle School, and my older brother, jazz biographer Aidan Levy, was listening to Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins in his room from the age of nine, when he was starting to learn the saxophone. I was six, and everything he did was cool to me. I believe that with jazz, the earlier you develop an ear for it, the more it sticks with you.

At first, I was very much more into vocal jazz and musical theater. My first jazz obsession was Ella Fitzgerald, and I would sit and listen to her ever- surprising versions of “How High the Moon?” and “Love for Sale” on repeat. I would get lost in every detail trying to imitate her every nuance, and I just wanted more.

Music Makers Interview ALLEGRA 2
I loved musical theater, but I always wanted to sing things my own way and have more freedom in phrasing. At musical theater camp at the age of 14, I remember not being a real fit in any of the shows, finding the one other kid who played jazz piano, and sneaking off to practice with him at any free moment. After that I went right off to jazz camp and it stuck.

JI: Do you think Jazz is about melody or about impermanence as you developed your own playing style?
AL: Jazz is a language, and it’s important to learn the history and the fundamentals and listen to the great Black Americans who gave birth to it all. Melody, swing, and improvisation are all intricately interconnected and essential to one another. I think it is exciting that you can play the same song differently every performance and you may never repeat it. In that way to me, it is the best metaphor for life.

JI: Can you talk about the composing process for you in Jazz, and what is the creative process like when you think of the group work with fellow artists? Can you give an example of this on your upcoming release?
AL: I hear melodies and lyrics in my head fairly often, and I sing to myself a lot as my immediate way of expressing my emotions. I try not to do it too much in public, I’m sure it looks a bit crazy while walking down the street. When something starts to take shape, then I sit down and begin to develop it and seek out richer harmony- sometimes I collaborate on simple ideas to develop them with other artists and friends until it’s complete. I think of my friends and family, who are all incredibly talented, as fellow editors. I often try to give my bandmates (like Carmen Staaf) as much freedom as I can with their interpretations. I’m lucky to be in New York surrounded by more brilliant artists than I could ever imagine, and you never know what they might hear differently that will contribute to the development of an idea.

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JI: Do you have a special track from the record?
AL: “What Are You Waiting For” is my new original that I still think about and that will probably see more iterations even after this release. It’s all about the struggle of an artist and a bit of a love affair with NYC. Ultimately, it’s about believing in yourself and continuing on, even if things feel insurmountable. It’s my own reminder to keep going when things get tricky, which I can say they often do, as I’m expecting my second child, and my first has now just turned three. There are so many forces against continuing artistry, creativity, and collaboration every day, especially for a woman/mother in jazz and music and I need every spec of encouragement I can get to continue.

JI: Would you like to add anything about your love of music?
AL: I always envision each moment of life better as a musical, with every moment carrying its own particular soundtrack and soundscape, starting with our first moments. I feel lucky to even be able to create and collaborate on music, and I hope that people continue to see the value in live performance.
by G.M. Burns