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Geri Allen: Journey to the Light

Greg Thomas By

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"In 1982, I moved to Pittsburgh and was encouraged by Dr. Nathan Davis, who has a wonderful program at the University of Pittsburgh, to study ethnomusicology. I wasn't quite ready for New York, and did want to further my studies, and advance my playing. Dr. Davis offered me a teaching assistantship towards a Master's in Ethnomusicology. During that period, I spoke with musicians there who knew Mary Lou, and I actually lived for a while in East Liberty, where she grew up. Her iconic career was very illuminating. I was greatly moved by her work as a pianist, a composer, a conceptualist and as a free thinker. She knew who she was, she knew her worth, and she unapologetically pursued her artistry. I'm grateful to her for so many things."

Williams, who would have been 100 years old in 2010, inspired Allen's "For The Healing Of The Nations," a Sacred Jazz Suite in a choral setting written in tribute to the families, victims and survivors of the 9/11 tragedy. The title of the suite comes from the Bible and centers on various sacred texts. "God, the center, the core of our strength and the power of love and healing, is the only place I could look to, to find comfort when such things happen. The poet, and initiate of the project, Sandra Turner Barnes wrote much of the poetry other than the sacred texts."

Geri Allen cites coming from a strong spiritually-based family, participating in the Madrigals at Cass under Marilyn Jones, Mary Lou's Music For Peace, and her love for the voice as the main elements which helped to pave the way for her sacred jazz suite.

"Music can change the ethers; I know this as I listen to Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Whatever's going on, the music draws the Light. I think that's what this music has always really been about: people finding ways to express the Light even in the midst of darkness, finding a way to it through the power of the Spirit."

Recommended Listening:

Geri Allen, The Printmakers (Minor Music-Polygram, 1984)

Geri Allen, In The Year of the Dragon (with Charlie Haden & Paul Motian) (JMT-Winter & Winter, 1989)

Geri Allen, Eyes in the Back of Your Head (Blue Note, 1995)

Mary Lou Williams Collective, Zodiac Suite: Revisited (Mary, 2000-03)

Geri Allen, The Life of a Song (Telarc, 2004)

Trio 3 + Geri Allen, At This Time (Intakt, 2008)

Photo Credit

Richard Conde

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