Photo: Geri Allen at the 2016 Vision Festival | Joyce Jones. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.
The next show will air on Sunday, July 24, 2016 from 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This broadcast features an interview with Geri Allen: an award winning pianist and composer who is also an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. In this installment of the show, we’ll explore a bit of Allen’s life and incredible talent.
Professor Allen is currently Director of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology.
Geri Allen, pianist/composer, bandleader, educator and Guggenheim Fellow, is the first recipient of the Soul Train, Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. In 2011 Geri Allen, was nominated for an NAACP Award for her Timeline, Tap Quartet Project. Allen is the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize. She is a cutting edge performing artist, and continues to concertize internationally.
She is a product of the Detroit Public School System, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh. Allen moved to NYC in 1982 after completing an advanced degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh, and for the past thirty years has recorded, performed and collaborated with some of the most important artists of our time including Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, George Shirley, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Cobb, Sandra Turner-Barnes, Charles Lloyd, Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, Jason Moran, Lizz Wright, Marian McPartland, Roy Brooks, Vijay Iyer, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion, Laurie Anderson, Terri Lynn Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, Hal Wilner, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Dr. Billy Taylor, Carrie Mae Weems, Angelique Kidjo, Mary Wilson and the Supremes, S. Epatha Merkerson, Farah Jasmin Griffin, Howard University’s Afro-Blue and many others.
Allen is a recent recipient of the Howard University Pinnacle Award presented by Professor Connaitre Miller and Afro Blue. Ms. Allen has been a faculty member at Howard University, the New England Conservatory, and the University of Michigan where she taught for ten years.
In 2014, Allen was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree by Berklee College of Music in Boston. The Honorable Congressman John Conyers Jr. presented the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Jazz Legacy Award to Ms. Allen.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra commissioned Geri Allen in 2013, to compose new works for the 50th Anniversary celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. She composed a piece “Stones & Streams” a work for orchestra, chorus, piano and narrator.
She is the musical director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective, recording and performing the music of the great Mary Lou Williams, including her sacred work, Mass For Peace. Allen collaborated with S. Epatha Merkerson and Farah Jasmin Griffin on two music theatre projects, “Great Apollo Women”, which premiered at the legendary Apollo Theatre, and “A Conversation with Mary Lou”, which premiered at the Harlem Stage, as an educational component for the Harlem Stage collaboration. The featured artist was Carmen Lundy, and Allen’s long time trio members Kenny Davis and Kassa Overall). The University of Pittsburgh hosted the first ever Mary Lou Williams Cyber Symposium where ViJay Iyer, Jason Moran, and Allen performed a three piano improvisation from Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh, in real time using Internet 2 technology.
Geri Allen is the product of a family of educators. Her father Mount V. Allen Jr is a retired Detroit Public School Principal, and her mother Barbara Jean was a defense contract administrator for the U.S. Government. “Our parents insisted my brother and I go to college. We took their advice. I pursued a career as a jazz performer, and completed my undergrad degree at Howard, and my master’s at Pitt. Mount pursued a career as a jazz advocate and presented, completing his masters at Lehigh University. He is currently Director of Operations, at the San Francisco Jazz Center.”
Geri Allen, a mother of three, acknowledges her family for making it possible for her to sustain longevity in a sometimes challenging and always changing field of the music industry.
Allen has enjoyed a very successful over thirty-year performing career as a NYC jazz musician. She has now returned to Pittsburgh to continue her legacy as a cutting edge pianist/composer, recording and performing artist. Allen is just as passionate about her work with her undergrad and graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh, and she firmly believes that “meaningful access to music is one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others”. She is a fierce advocate for all children of all ages to have direct hands on access to music, and the creative and empowering process jazz inspires.
Allen’s most recent recorded project is titled Perfection with other former Suga’ guests David Murray and Terri Lyne Carrington under the group named the MAC Power Trio. This recording will be available as a thank you gift for a membership pledge amount of $25 to ten (10) listeners. There are also a few autographed copies of Quincy Jones’s Miles and Me book available for a $35 pledge if you missed out on that last time.
This program is hosted, engineered, produced, and edited by Joyce Jones.
Listen for our On the Bandstand segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with Associate Producer Hank Williams.
Geri Allen is at the Village Vanguard from August 2-7.
Watch Geri Allen’s trio perform “Dark Prince” in this 1998 live performance in Germany.
Watch Allen perform “Our Lady” Live in 2014 at the Berklee College of Music’s commencement concert.
Hank Williams is assistant producer for Suga’ in My Bowl and produces the weekly “On the Bandstand” segment as well as running the show’s website and blog, where he has reviewed several jazz festivals. His writing has also appeared in Left Turn magazine and American Music Review. He teaches at Lehman and Hunter colleges in the City University of New York system.