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Geri Allen Plays Mary Lou Williams

Irene Javors By

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In conjunction with the exhibition, "Mary Lou Williams In Her Own Right," (Flushing Town Hall, Flushing, N.Y. through Dec. 31, 2000), the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts presented on Oct. 6, 2000, a concert by Geri Allen with Mark Johnson on bass and Billy Johnson on drums of the music of Mary Lou Williams.

For the first time in fifty-five years, the full Zodiac Suite was performed in its piano version Ms. Allen's interpretation of William's twelve "tone poems" was nothing short of rapturous. She managed to light up the stage with her pyrotechnic fingering of those wonderful ivories! Ms. Allen demonstrated her extraordinary sensitivity to the subtle shadings of this wonderful music. She approaches each piece with great intelligence and skillful technical nuance.

In preparation for this performance, Ms. Allen spent well over a year studying the scoring and transcribing the original recordings. Her hard work paid off. She delivered a terrific performance.

Not to be forgotten, her two sidemen, Billy Johnson on drums and Marc Johnson on bass helped to make the evening almost memorable one. Marc Johnson pushed his instrument to the limit with style and grace. Billy Johnson kept the beat going with masterly verve.

Geri Allen has a unique blend of "studied musicality" mixed with one heck of a swing sound. She makes her jazz piano sound like there is an entire Ravelian orchestra hiding somewhere within the depths.

In 1996, she played the role of Mary Lou Williams, one of her idols, in the film Kansas City by Robert Altman. She was terrific then as now. Like Williams, Geri Allen performs best when challenged by deeply felt complexities.

Years ago, Mary Lou Williams wrote, "from Zodiac I received the name musician's musician instead of "Boogie Woogie Queens." After Ms. Allen's sensitive interpretation of Zodiac Suite there can be no doubt that this is the tribute of one musician's musician to another.
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