Named a Top 10 Rising Star Jazz Vocalist in DownBeat’s 2021 Critics’ Poll, NYC-based Allegra Levy is that rare jazz songbird who pens her own tunes. Her first album for kids and families, Songs for You and Me, was recently released and it is a delightful treat for your ears from start to finish. The velvet rich tones remind me of the gorgeous ballads from my own childhood. The melodies dance with the lyrics and twirl around with ease while a diverse mix of instruments have their own conversations at the perfect moments to compliment the magical stories. It's so dimensional and complex, yet simple and sweet. I love it. I love it so so so much. Meet the master behind this incredible project, Allegra Levy.
You recently released your first Children's Album, Songs for You and Me. How did you get started on your journey into the Children's Music genre?
I’ve been working with kids and in music education since 2011. My first kid-related composition was a lullaby for a baby boy I was looking after and it ended up on my second album from SteepleChase Records, Cities Between Us. But I didn’t focus on creating sound for little ones until I was quarantined with my 18-year-old niece during the pandemic. I used music as a way to ease her anxiety (and all of ours) by writing a song about washing your hands. I had my ukulele with me, and the kids’ music started flowing like a tap that wouldn’t shut off. Once I had my own daughter, Stella, the songs just kept coming to me. Music is the best tool for comfort and social/emotional learning, and my entry into the kindie music community has been so joyful for me. It is a warm and welcoming community full of talented musicians who just want to enrich the ears of our young ones for generations to come.
For listeners who have yet to hear your music, how would you describe your style?
I have always been steeped in the jazz tradition, and I love Black American Music and songs from the Great American Songbook. I think much of my inspiration comes from there. Many of my songs have a classic swing feel, even if the lyrics are about boo-boos, boogers, and bath time. Most importantly, I love simple, memorable melodies that everyone can sing and relate to. If you’re walking around the house with one of my songs stuck in your head, I feel like I’ve done my job!
You have been working in the music industry as a jazz vocalist for over a decade. What is your favorite thing about being an artist and what is the toughest thing about it?
I have certainly had my ups and downs throughout my career thus far. Sometimes I struggle to persist when it’s hard to book performances or I end up losing money on a show. Many of the music industry practices in New York City and around the country do not favor independent artists — especially women artists — and you have to be able to wear many hats to keep it all going. You need to find the time to create your art while also being the booking agent, manager, and social media content creator as well. Making time to also be on the music scene and go out to hear other people perform is important, but a big challenge for me with a toddler at home. Yet getting to collaborate and perform with some of the greatest artists out there makes it all worth it because it is so life-affirming. It’s also always magical to record an original piece and hear all the parts come to life. But in the end, getting to connect with audiences and hear that you have impacted someone’s life with one of your songs is the most exhilarating of all.
What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?
I think the best advice I’ve received was recently from NEA Jazz Master and living legend, Sheila Jordan. She said “ Sing what you know and what you feel.” Advice from a non-musician that I still follow was from my grandma, who said “Nothing is insurmountable.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? Is there another Children's album in the works?
I never know where life will take me, but I’m hoping to continue writing and recording music for both children and adults who love jazz. I have a secret aspiration to write a musical as well sometime in the next 5 years, and geez, I guess my daughter will be 7 by then! Yikes!
I’m looking to record and perform with an all-mom or all-woman big band and also to do a jazz-for-kids record that celebrates some of the best children’s music ever recorded, like Ella Fitzgerald’s performances on the Ed Sullivan Show of “Old MacDonald” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” I think it’s imperative to keep jazz alive by bringing it to our youngest audiences and their parents.
If you could go to any concert throughout time, which one would you attend and why?
Easy. Ella Fitzgerald, Live in Berlin, on February 13, 1960. As for why — do you even need to ask?