Photography: Jerome De Perlinghi
A few years ago, after two decades on the festival and club circuit, Chicago jazz singer Jackie Allen decided to shift her music career into low gear. She married Hans Sturm, her bassist; became a mother at age 44; and moved to Muncie, Indiana, where Sturm is on the faculty at Ball State University. Then a prestigious record label added the 47-year-old chanteuse to its high-profile roster of divas, a lineup that includes Norah Jones, Cassan-dra Wilson, and Chicago’s own Patricia Barber.
“The irony is that for so long I’d wanted a family, but I put it off because my career was so important,” says Allen. “After years of pushing so hard, when I finally decided it’s time to let go and move on and do something else, the big payoff happens.”
This month, Allen débuts on Blue Note Records with Tangled, a testament to midlife longing, loss, and love, told through gospel, bossa nova, funk, piano balladry, jazz, and swinging blues. “I like a record to read like a book,” says Allen: “some light moments, some dark moments; some seriousness, some humor.” On Tangled, Allen’s breathy alto coos, calls, and drawls her own compositions as well as songs by Van Morrison, Randy Newman, and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. The mix is a natural fit for the singer, who grew up in Wisconsin listening to both the Beatles and her tuba-playing father’s Dixieland jazz band.
These days, Allen splits her time between Indiana and Chicago, where she keeps an apartment in Oak Park to accommodate her teaching job at Roosevelt University and gigs in the city. On Thursday nights through April, she performs at Sotto, a restaurant lounge in Forest Park. She officially celebrates Tangled’s release with a pair of shows at The Green Mill on June 9th and 10th. “I feel like I’m blessed, because I’m one of those people that actually have been able to experience it all,” Allen says. Then she adds, laughing, “Now it’s just finding the energy to do it.”