Photo: Geri Allen | © Joyce Jones/ Suga Bowl Photography. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Used with Permission.
The next show will air on Sunday, December 24, 2017 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 is our second 2018 Winter Jazz Festival preview program. The Winter Jazz Festival will present a tribute program on Monday, January 15, 2018 to the late pianist Geri Allen, who made her transition this past June 27. We will hear remembrances from former Suga’ guests: long time Manager and friend Ora Harris, Motema Records President Jana Herzen, Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, Professor and Author Farah Jasmine Griffin, Pianist Vijay Iyer, Ruth Cameron Haden (widow of bassist Charlie Haden) and Radio Announcer Sheila Elaine Anderson.
Who was Geri Allen? Just an award winning pianist and composer who was also an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. Professor Allen’s last post was as 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, was 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 was the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize. She was a cutting edge performing artist, and continues to concertize internationally.
She was a product of the Detroit Public School System, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh. Allen moved to NYC in 1982 after she completed her 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 a 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 was 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 was the product of a family of educators. Her father Mount V. Allen Jr was 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 had enjoyed a very successful over thirty-year performing career as a NYC jazz musician. She returned to Pittsburgh to continue her legacy as a cutting edge pianist/composer, recording and performing artist. Allen was just as passionate about her work with her undergrad and graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh, and she firmly believed that “meaningful access to music was one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others”. She was 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.
Geri Allen is survived by her father Mount Vernell Allen, Jr., brother Mount Vernell Allen III and three children: Laila, Wally and Barbara Antoinette.
(Bio adapted from the Geri Allen website)
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 will be the subject of a tribute concert at the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium (63 5th Avenue in Manhattan) on January 15. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington will be the musical director of a spectacular cast, including Angela Davis, Esperanza Spalding, Craig Taborn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jaimeo Brown, Jeff Tain Watts, Kassa Overall, Kris Davis, Linda May Han Oh, Maurice Chestnut, Mino Cinelu, Ravi Coltrane, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tia Fuller, Vijay Iyer and more to be announced. Concert proceeds will go to the Geri Allen estate.
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.