Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
For someone of Steve Allen's versatility and staggering capacity for work, jazz occupied a small yet significant portion of his biography. Yet despite his crowded agenda, Allen could still spin out facile, competent, bop-and-cocktail-flavored piano in fast jazz company -- nothing particularly original but always pleasurable to hear. He started to play the piano while a child -- his parents were traveling vaudeville performers -- but the keyboard soon had to take a back seat to his media career, first on radio and then on television. Best known as a comedian and the first host of the American TV institution The Tonight Show (September 1954 to January 1957), Allen frequently played piano and sang on his shows and used them as a forum to present guests from the jazz world. He also played the lead role in the film The Benny Goodman Story in 1955, produced the TV series Jazz Scene USA in 1962, and narrated a history of jazz on records, The Jazz Story (Coral). Allen recorded frequently for Coral, Dot, Roulette, EmArcy, and Decca during the peak of his TV fame, and as late as 1992 he taped an enjoyable mainstream set for Concord Jazz, Plays Jazz Tonight. In addition to some 43 books, Allen claimed to have written (as of 1994) more than 4,700 songs, of which only a bare handful -- "This Could Be the Start of Something (Big)," "Gravy Waltz," "Impossible" -- have staked claims in the repertoire. Ultimately, his most valuable contribution to jazz was as a cheerleader in the mass media. Steve Allen died in Encino, California, in October 2000 at the age of 78.