Allen's family is another powerful influence for her. "My parents, Barbara Jean Allen, who passed in '82, and Mount Vernell Allen, Jr., are my inspirations. My father recently celebrated his 85th birthday in Detroit. So many of his former students, colleagues and friends came to celebrate his legacy. This was an incredible experience, witnessing the impact that one person can have on an entire community and not really know it. This birthday celebration gave people the opportunity to say 'thank you' to him and to express how he'd changed their lives in significant ways. My brother Mount and I are close as well. My children are my life, and these are the areas that remain my focus. Music is a partial reflection of these things."
It's especially impressive to note that in addition to her extensive work as a recording artist and her active touring schedule, Allen has had an accomplished career as an educator, following a long family tradition. "My grandmother, Leola Allen, taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and my father is a retired educator. I never realized, coming up as a young musician, how much teaching would eventually define my life. It has, and I have been very fortunate to be a member of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance faculty since 2004. My students inspire me every day, as do my colleagues. I now know for certain that teaching is in my genes, and I love it."
Regarding other upcoming or ongoing projects, Allen hesitates about going into much detail. "It is hard to start speaking about other projects because there are so many incredible collaborations I'd hate to miss. I do have to congratulate NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] Jazz Master
Lorraine Gordon for all she has done to maintain an incredible place for the music that continues to exist in New York City. I've played at the Village Vanguard with [trumpeter] Lester Bowie
, [drummer] Paul Motian
and [bassist] Charlie Haden
, with [bassist] Ron Carter
and [drummer] Jimmy Cobb
, and most recently with Terri Lyne and Esperanza. I will be playing the Vanguard this fall, too, with [saxophonist] Ravi Coltrane
, [drummer] Jeff "Tain" Watts
and [bassist] James Genus
Allen recalls fondly the March, 2013 concert she participated in celebrating the memory of the late Paul Motian at Symphony Space in New York. "What a beautiful tribute, organized by [saxophonist]Joe Lovano
and [guitarist] Bill Frisell
." And she looks forward to another tribute to a longtime musical colleague. "I am on the way to Healdsburg, California, to participate in a celebration of Charlie Haden, who won the lifetime achievement Grammy Award
this yearcongratulations Charlie!and am thrilled to be with him again, to say thank you for all the great music he is contributing and has contributed, and be amongst friends and musical inspiration."
An upcoming fall performance comes to Allen's mind as particularly important: the opening of the 2013-2014 season of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jacques Lacombe, which will feature the world premier of Stones & Streams
, Allen's original symphonic work commissioned by the Orchestra. Allen will also be playing piano for the three performances of the piece, which are scheduled for September 27, 28 and 29. "I am thrilled to be collaborating with the Orchestra and Maestro Lacombe. This is a maiden voyage for me, and I feel extremely privileged and honored to have been invited."
Geri Allen, Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations
Elisabeth Kontomanou/Geri Allen, Secret of the Wind
(Plus Loin, 2012)
Terri Lyne Carrington, The Mosaic Project
Trio 3 & Geri Allen, Celebrating Mary Lou Williams: Live At Birdland, New York
(Intakt Records, 2011)
Geri Allen, A Child is Born
Geri Allen & Timeline, Live
Geri Allen, Flying Toward the Sound
Photo Credit: John Kelman