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Geri Allen is the quintessence of what a present-day mainstream jazz pianist should be. Well versed in a variety of modern jazz styles from bop to free, Allen steers a middle course in her own music, speaking in a cultivated and moderately distinctive voice, respectful of but not overly impressed with the doctrine of conservatism that often rules the mainstream scene. There is little conceptually that separates her from her most obvious models -- Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans primary among them -- yet Allen plays with a spontaneity and melodic gift that greatly transcend rote imitation. Her improvisational style is at various times both spacious and dense, rubato and swinging, blithe and percussive. It's a genuinely expressive, personal voice; her music is an amalgam -- honestly conceived, intelligently accessible, and well within the bounds of what is popularly expected from a jazz musician of her generation.
Allen received her early jazz education at the famed Cass Technical High School in Detroit, where her mentor was the highly regarded trumpeter/teacher Marcus Belgrave. In 1979, Allen earned her bachelor's degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, Allen attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a master's degree in ethnomusicology, returning to New York in 1982. In the mid-'80s, Allen formed an association with the Brooklyn "M-Base" crowd that surrounded alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. Allen played on several of Coleman's albums, including his first, 1985's Motherland Pulse. Allen's own first album, The Printmakers, with Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, from a year earlier, showcased the pianist's more avant-garde tendencies.
In 1988 came perhaps her first mature group statement, Etudes, a cooperative trio effort with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian -- Allen's loose-limbed lyricism and off-center linearity were perfectly complemented by the innate tunefulness of bassist Haden and the unerring timbral sense of drummer Motian. In the '90s, Allen signed first with Blue Note, then Verve. Her subsequent records placed her in ever more conventional contexts, supported by the cream of the mainstream "Young Lions" crop. As a soloist, however, Allen continued to push the improvisational envelope, as evidenced by Sound Museum, a 1996 recording made under the leadership of Ornette Coleman. The solo Gathering followed in 1998. Allen was named the top Talent Deserving Wider Recognition among pianists in the 1993 and 1994 Down Beat magazine critics' polls. Her significant collaborators to date included saxophonists Oliver Lake, Arthur Blythe, and Julius Hemphill; trumpeter Lester Bowie; and singer Betty Carter.
To begin the 21st century, Allen recorded Live at the Village Vanguard with Motian and Haden for the Japanese DIW imprint. She followed it with another label change in 2004 when she moved to Telarc for Life of a Song with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. She remained on the label for 2006's Timeless Portraits and Dreams, a collection of spirituals, gospel songs, and bebop tunes. Her rhythm section for the date included bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb, with trumpeter Wallace Roney appearing on a version of Charlie Parker's "Au-Leu-Cha." Allen not only changed labels again in 2009, but her standard piano trio configuration as well. Three Pianos for Jimi, on Douglas Records, is a tribute to legendary rock guitarist Hendrix. It was recorded with two other pianists -- brothers Mark and Scott Batson -- and featured no other instrumentation. Allen, who also serves as an associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, recorded her solo piano work Flying Toward the Sound, which celebrates the contributions and influence of Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock, in 2009. It was released on the Motéma imprint in 2010. In 2011, Allen released the Christmas-themed A Child Is Born, featuring a mix of traditional carols, hymns, and some original songs.
Geri Allen (born June 12, 1957 in Pontiac, Michigan) is an American composer/pianist educator jazz pianist, raised in Detroit, Michigan, and educated in the Detroit Public Schools. Allen has worked with many of the greats of modern music, including Ornette Coleman, Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane, Tony Williams, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Betty Carter, and Charles Lloyd. She cites her primary influences to be her parents, Mount Vernell Allen Jr, and Barbara Jean Allen, and her primary musical influences to be, mentors Marcus Belgrave, Donald Waldon, and Betty Carter, as well as pianists, Herbie Hancock, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, Alice Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell and mentor, Dr. Billy Taylor. Allen is an Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation in the School Of Music Theatre & Dance, at the University Of Michigan.
Allen received her early music education at the famed Cass Technical High School in Detroit and the Jazz Development Workshop, where her mentor was the highly regarded trumpeter/teacher Marcus Belgrave. In 1979, Allen earned her bachelor's degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She studied under composer Thomas Kerr, and pianists Raymond Jackson, John Malachi, Fred Irby, Arthur Dawkins, and Komla Amoaku. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, Allen attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a master's degree in ethnomusicology, returning to New York in 1982, and began touring with Mary Wilson and the Supremes. In the mid-'80s, Allen became a charter member of both the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement a collective including saxophonist Steve Coleman, and other significant contributors. Allen played on several of Coleman's albums, including his first, 1985's Motherland Pulse, and Coleman also played on her composition "The Dancer" on the LP, "In The Middle" (released in 1986), which featured veteran tap dancer, Lloyd Story. Allen also composed "The Glide Was In The Ride", performed by The Steve Coleman Group, listed on the New Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.
Allen's own first album, The Printmakers, with Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, from a year earlier, showcased the pianist's more avant-garde tendencies. In 1988 came Etudes, a cooperative trio effort with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. In 1995, she was the first recipient of Soul Train’s Lady of Soul Award for jazz album of the year for Twenty-One, featuring Tony Williams and Ron Carter, and the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish "Jazz Par Prize". Allen continued to push the improvisational envelope with Sound Museum, a 1996 recording made under the leadership of Ornette Coleman. The Gathering followed in 1998. The Life of a Song was recorded with veterans Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Her 2010 album "Flying Toward the Sound" was rated one of the Best Of 2010 on NPR, Downbeat, All About Jazz, and the Village Voice's Jazz Critics' Poll that year."Timeless Portraits and Dreams" featured NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter, as well as opera icon George Shirley singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing", saxophonist and mentor Donald Walden, vocalist Carmen Lundy, and the Atlanta Jazz Chorus under the direction of composer/multi-reedist Dwight Andrews.
In 2006, Allen was commissioned to compose "For The Healing Of The Nations" a Sacred Jazz Suite for Voices, written in Tribute to the Victims, Survivors and Their Families of the 9/11 Tragedy. The Suite was performed by Howard University's award winning Afro-Blue Jazz Choir, under direction of Connaitre Miller. Oliver Lake, Craig Harris, Andy Bey, Dwight Andrews, Mary Stallings, Carmen Lundy, Nneena Freelon, Jay Hoggard, and other jazz greats also participated. The poetry was contributed by Sandra Turner-Barnes.
Geri Allen took part in a documentary film titled "Live Music, Community & Social Conscience" (2007) while performing at the Frog Island Music Festival in Michigan. A documentary film that looks at how music connects us to our humanity, and to each other regardless of borders, politics, culture economics, or religion. Allen contributed original music to the documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, director Lisa Gay Hamilton, which received a Peabody Award. Also, Allen contributed orchestrations to Andy Bey's "American Song" which was nominated for a Grammy Award. She was the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship. Allen's composition "Refractions", was released, in response to her Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition, as "Flying Towards The Sound" along with three short art films by film maker/photographer, Carrie Mae Weems, for Motema Music in 2010. "Geri Allen & Timeline Live" her second recording for Motema, featured bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Kassa Overall and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, and was released simultaneously with "Flying Toward The Sound".
Allen received the "African-American Classical Music Award" from the Women of the New Jersey Chapter of Spelman College, and also received "A Salute To African-American Women: Phenomenal Woman" from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Epsilon chapter at the University of Michigan, in 2008. Allen received a nomination in 2011 for the NAACP Image Award for Best Jazz Album, "Geri Allen & Timeline Live". She was also nominated for both The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in 2011 under the Live Performance Album category, and for "Best Jazz Pianist", by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Ms. Allen performed this year in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument Unveiling Concert, "A Theatrical & Musical Celebration Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., MLK: A Monumental Life", presented in Constitution Hall, by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Geri Allen currently teaches as Associate Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation at the School Of Music Theatre & Dance, at the University Of Michigan, and of July 2012 is a curator in New York City at the STONE.