01 Jun Jazz Chanteuse Allegra Levy, Inspired by Motherhood, Releases First Children’s Record
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Allegra Levy’s voice has that sultry, smoky, vintage quality that draws comparisons to jazz greats like Julie London. It’s also a classy counterpoint to the bright, happy instrumentation that’s woven throughout Songs for You and Me, her first family music record.
The record, which came together as Levy navigated her new life as a mom, is filled with singalong tunes like the spritely “Noodles” and the horns-drenched “It’s So Hard to Be You.”
“My parenting experience has definitely influenced and inspired my writing and also helped me realize that when you listen to music as a family, everyone benefits,” Allegra tells Rockmommy. “So this music specifically is meant to be listened to by all generations together — to bop to, dance to, sing to, laugh to, and even improvise together.”
We recently caught up with the toddler mom, who lives in Manhattan, to learn more.
[SEE RELATED: LUCY KALANTARI: ON MOTHERHOOD, MUSIC AND FEELING THANKFUL]
Rockmommy: Hi, Allegra! For those who don’t know your story, can you tell us about how you grew up and came to love jazz music?
Allegra Levy: I grew up in West Hartford, CT, which is known for its top-notch jazz program at Hall High School. It’s also in close proximity to Hartford, where jazz greats like Jackie McLean were based.
My parents love music, theater, and art, and they always encouraged creativity in our house. My first love was musical theater and the Great American Songbook. But when my older brother, Aidan Levy — the jazz journalist and biographer — took up the saxophone, I started hearing the sounds of Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker at age 6. Attending a high school “Pops ‘n Jazz” performance a few years later, I was starstruck by the vocal soloist singing with the big band. After that, Ella Fitzgerald was on constant replay on my Sony Discman, and I fell in love with the sounds of swing and Black American music.
Rockmommy: Who were some of your musical influences?
Allegra Levy: My parents often played and sang songs by Raffi, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and The Beatles for us as kids. Then I discovered Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Dianne Reeves. Later, in college, I fell in love with my mom’s all-time favorite, Joni Mitchell, along with Chet Baker, Shirley Horn, Nancy King, and Carmen McRae.
I was deeply influenced by my peers and teachers at New England Conservatory of Music, where I received my Bachelor’s in Jazz Vocal Performance. Almost everyone was a composer and visionary there and they all had such eclectic, individual, modern taste. Later, I was also influenced by many years on the NYC jazz scene, along with a brief stint I did as an artist-in-residence in Hong Kong, where the music and sounds were very different from those back at home.
Rockmommy: Your new record is all-ages. Is this your first foray into kindie/family music?
Allegra Levy: As jazz is an aural tradition, I’ve always thought about how to get it into the ears of little ones in order to ensure its future. I worked as a nanny and voice teacher for young children when I first got to NYC after college.
But I didn’t start actually writing songs for kids until my brother had his first child, Diana, in 2018. When she was 18 months old, we were all quarantined together during the pandemic. I had my ukulele and would often sing to her. I wrote her a song about washing her hands as a way to encourage her to stay safe, which ended up winning an award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest’s “Stuck at Home” division.
Other tunes started popping out after that. Both when I was pregnant and after my daughter, Stella, was born, a whole catalog of tunes documenting every step of the way emerged.
Rockmommy: I believe this is your first family record since becoming a parent. Did one inspire the other? How did the record come together?
Allegra Levy: I definitely was interested in family-friendly music prior to becoming a parent, but you just really don’t “get it” until you become one.
My parenting experience has definitely influenced and inspired my writing and also helped me realize that when you listen to music as a family, everyone benefits. So this music specifically is meant to be listened to by all generations together — to bop to, dance to, sing to, laugh to, and even improvise together.
I also find music to be both cathartic and the best way for me to express myself, and songs like “Noodles!” and “It’s So Hard to be You” were actually born out of very difficult moments of being completely overwhelmed as a new mom. I wanted to share my experience.
Rockmommy: How else has motherhood shaped your sound?
Allegra Levy: For years now, I have turned toward a community of women musicians as part of my work with the Women in Jazz Organization, to make music and collaborate. But now I find myself also wanting to work with not only other women, but other moms specifically. I think my whole life perspective has shifted, which will ultimately change my sound over time. I think that, because motherhood makes everything more complicated, I long for simpler times and simpler sounds and songs. I used to gravitate toward harmonic complexity, but I think sometimes we all just want some simplicity in our lives.
Rockmommy: Do you sing with your daughter? Does she sing along?
Allegra Levy: My daughter, Stella, sings constantly around the house, both my songs and everything from Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and yes, even “Baby Shark.” The more she’s exposed to and the more we sing together, the more I catch her creating her own songs.
Rockmommy: How has your musical career changed — if it has — since becoming a mom?
Allegra Levy: Since becoming a mom, it’s been a lot harder to create while struggling with exhaustion and attempting to still be “on the scene,” especially in jazz. There is a lot of pressure to be out hearing music and performing, but the late-night hours aren’t exactly compatible with needing to wake up at 5 or 6 AM every day. I also hate to miss bedtime with my daughter. But there are a lot more of us jazz moms out there now, and more of us talking about our struggles and supporting each other. It can still be a bit isolating, but I try to turn those moments into song, if I can.
Sometimes I get bursts of motivation when I think about my daughter and how I want her to go after her own dreams. Organizing my album release show with a large band of 12 musicians felt like almost too much to juggle with having a toddler, but it was worth it and I’m looking forward to touring with this amazing group in the future.
Rockmommy: Any advice for the other musician moms who want to stay creative while juggling all the things?
Allegra Levy: I think we’re all so hard on ourselves, and sometimes creativity just doesn’t come while experiencing stress and sleepless nights. My advice is to not be too hard on yourself (easier said than done — remember, “It’s So Hard to Be You!”).
Also, surround yourself with people you love to work with — people who energize you and add joy to your life and who may be in a similar boat so they get what you are going through. And if you need it, ask for help. I spearheaded this project, but I had a lot of support, encouragement, and creative friends who collaborated with me every step of the way.
These days, I think there is a lot of pressure to do everything on your own — to write your own songs, sing your own songs, produce, arrange, even engineer your own sessions. While I think that it’s important to have the knowledge and be an expert about as much as you can, I also think we forget sometimes that the best art and music are born from collaboration. It’s also a lot more fun working with others, and integrating diverse perspectives creates a richer overall sound.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.