Allegra Levy Releases 'Out of the Question' With Mimi Jones, Allison Miller, & Carmen Staaf

Levy was named one of the Top Ten Rising Stars among jazz vocalists in Downbeat’s 2021 Critics’ Poll.

By: May. 20, 2024
Allegra Levy Releases 'Out of the Question' With Mimi Jones, Allison Miller, & Carmen Staaf
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How deep is the ocean?” “What is this thing called love?” Jazz singer-songwriter Allegra Levy may not have all the answers, but she sure has plenty of questions. One thing about which there can be no question, though, is that her career is on the rise.

Named one of the Top Ten Rising Stars among jazz vocalists in Downbeat’s 2021 Critics’ Poll, she has been dubbed a “double-barreled talent” by JazzTimes, and called everything from “sophisticated, worldly, and swinging” to “the new pin-up girl for cool.” Her latest album – released today, May 20 – truly seals the deal. Out of the Question, Levy’s fifth release from SteepleChase Records, is composed entirely of songs in search of answers, from “Where Are You Going?” to Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It features an all-star, all-women band, including Carmen Staaf on piano, Allison Miller on drums, and Mimi Jones on bass, with special guests Roxy Coss on sax, Aubrey Johnson on vocals, and Andrew Baird on guitar.

A Connecticut native now based in New York, Levy has appeared at most of the top jazz venues in NYC, including the Jazz Standard, the Blue Note, Birdland Theatre, Zinc Bar, and the Bitter End. “Fresh … exotic… and far beyond the ordinary,” declared The New York Times of her debut album, 2014’s Lonely City. Ever since, she has continued to pen a collection of harmonically adventurous-yet-familiar originals steeped in the Great American Songbook. Her third album, Looking at the Moon, was an Editor’s Pick in both DownBeat and JazzTimes. Her fourth, Lose My Number: Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil – featuring her own lyrics set to the tunes of renowned trumpeter John McNeil – was lauded in The New Yorker as “a showcase for Levy’s… agile vocalizing and her gift for sculpting words.”

Last spring, Levy ventured into jazz for the juvenile set with an internationally acclaimed children’s album, Songs for You and Me. Her new record, however, is strictly PG … or maybe even R, for rousing, riveting, and downright raunchy when it comes to her bluesy take on the ‘80s punk rock classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash.

This new project was the brainchild of Levy’s longtime collaborator, pianist Carmen Staaf, a winner of the Mary Lou Williams jazz piano competition, who currently serves as musical director for DeeDee Bridgewater. “She pointed out that some of the most beautiful songs are questions, not answers, and I became fascinated with the concept,” Levy says. “As I get older, I find that it really is more about the questions.”

The question remained what songs to choose. Although there were countless cross-genre standards to choose from — from Irving Berlin’s flapper-era “What’ll I Do?” to Michel Legrand’s haunting 1969 melody “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” — the album also includes two classic instrumental numbers for which Levy wrote lyrics: “Are You Real?” by Benny Golson, and Horace Silver’s “Que Pasa?”

There are two of Levy’s originals as well, entitled “What’s In a Name?” and “What Are You Waiting For?” The latter is a sort of musical pep talk about going for what you want rather than waiting for dreams to magically come true. “It’s a message I want to pass on to newcomers and other young women on the scene,” Levy says, “to make your own dreams and shape your own existence, because nobody is going to hand it to you.”

One personal dream come true for her was getting to record with drummer Allison Miller. “She’s been one of my heroes ever since I got to New York,” Levy says. Called “a modern jazz icon in the making” by All About Jazz, Miller is known for everything from leading her own stellar band, Boom Tic Boom, to being a member of the supergroup ARTEMIS. Her frequent collaborators include singers Brandi Carlile, Ani DiFranco, and Natalie Merchant, organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, and reedists Anat Cohen and Ben Goldberg, as well as Staaf, with whom she has released two stellar albums.

Rounding out the band is bassist Mimi Jones, voted No. 2 Rising Star jazz bassist in Downbeat’s Critics’ Poll three years in a row. During her more than two decades as both a leader and sought-after sidewoman, she has worked with everyone from Beyoncé, Dianne Reeves, and DeeDee Bridgewater to Roy Hargrove, Ravi Coltrane, and Terri Lyne Carrington.

The combined force of these three phenomenal femme fatales helped inspire the album’s title. “I have this all-female trio that can’t be reckoned with,” Levy explains, “and messing with them is really ‘out of the question.’”

The same could be said for Levy herself, who continues to accumulate accolades. She was among last year’s winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Competition for Best Children’s Song. She was also a 2023 finalist in the International Songwriting Competition’s Children’s Music category for her song “It’s So Hard to Be You.” Plus, she took first place in the 2019 Great American Song Contest’s Adult Contemporary Music category for her pop tune “Waste My Time.” Yet she is equally known for her jazzy originals and rich, emotive, contralto voice. A graduate of New England Conservatory, she proudly serves on the leadership of the Women in Jazz Organization. She wishes to dedicate this album to her young daughter, Stella Plum, as well as her future son, due this summer, about whom she wonders,“Who will you become?” But in the end, “Sometimes we don’t need all the answers,” Levy says. “We just have to explore the questions.”

Out of the Question Track Listing

1. Are You Real?
2. What Are You Waiting For?
3. Where Are You Going?
4. Should I Stay or Should I Go?
5. What Is This Thing Called Love?
6. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
7. Que Pasa?
8. What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?
9. Will You Still Be Mine?
10. What's In a Name?
11. How Deep is the Ocean?
12. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
13. What'll I Do?

photo credit: Erika Kapin Photography


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