Pianist, composer, Guggenheim Fellow, and educator Geri Allen died on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 from complications of cancer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had recently celebrated her 60th birthday.
Hailed as one of the most accomplished pianists and educators of her time, Allen's most recent position was as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She was especially proud of performing with renowned pianist McCoy Tyner for the last two years, and was also part of two recent groundbreaking trios: ACS (Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Esperanza Spalding) and the MAC Power Trio with David Murray and Carrington their debut recording Perfection was released on Motéma Music in 2016 to critical acclaim.
"The jazz community will never be the same with the loss of one of our geniuses, Geri Allen. Her virtuosity and musicality are unparalleled," expressed Carrington upon learning of her passing. "I will miss my sister and friend, but I am thankful for all of the music she made and all of the incredible experiences we had together for over 35 years. She is a true original a one of kind never to be forgotten. My heart mourns, but my spirit is filled with the gift of having known and learned from Geri Allen."
She was the first woman and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize, and was the first recipient of the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. In 2011, she was nominated for an NAACP Award for Timeline, her Tap Quartet project. Over the last few years, Allen served as the program director of NJPAC's All-Female Jazz Residency, which offered a weeklong one-of-a-kind opportunity for young women, ages 14-25, to study jazz.
Allen was also recently honored to be one of the producers of the expanded and re- mastered recording of Erroll Garner's The Complete Concert by the Sea, which garnered her an Essence Image Award nomination as well as a GRAMMY® Award- nomination in 2016. She felt strongly that students should have access to this material, and went on to organize a 60th anniversary performance of the material at the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival with Jason Moran and Christian Sands.
Having grown up in Detroit, a region known for its rich musical history, Allen's affinity for jazz stemmed from her father's passion for the music. She began taking lessons at 7-years-old, and started her early music education under the mentorship of trumpeter Marcus Belgrave at the Cass Technical High School. In 1979, she was one of the first to graduate from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in jazz studies. It was there that she began to embrace music from all cultures that would ultimately influence her work. During that time, she studied with the great Kenny Barron in New York City.