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July 2: Debb Moore Remembers Geri Allen On Sunday Jazz Suite

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Join me for the Sunday,  Jazz Suite on  Jazz 91.9 WCLK from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. as we honor the life and music of Geri Allen.  It was such an honor to have met Geri and share a little "girl talk" along with a multi-generational group of fans.  We were greeting, hugging and smiling in "awe" at the pretty, soft spoken, kind and humble powerhouse, Geri Allen. 

A Pianist/Composer, Bandleader, Educator and Guggenheim Fellow, Allen was in Atlanta, Georgia in 2008, to perform at Sisters Chapel on the campus of Spelman College with longtime musician, collaborator,  Jazz Vocalist and friend Carmen Lundy.

To say that Allen’s appearance and performance on the Steinway piano that evening was extra-special is an understatement.  It was just a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y breathtaking!  Huge!  Improvisational!  Courageous! Compassionate!  Open!  Her God given talent, honed by careful study, and nurtured by millions of miles on the road, was with integrity, truth,  and a generous dose of creative thought, musical light and “her “humanity.”  Not only as a talented, skilled, well trained and inspired creative being, but as a mother balancing three children, as a daughter, as a sister and former wife of ( Trumpeter Wallace Roney)  She was ahhhh - how would you say “rock’ing her black woman magic once again!”

So when my colleague Rivablue texted me to “call her about Geri Allen,” I knew.  Not with certainly, but “I knew” that she was leaving.  One of the worlds’ greatest piano virtuosos, Geri Allen was leaving “us.”  I then recognized “that” the tone of my day had been set.  I was out handling my business and I pulled my car over to the side of the rode to immediately phone her beloved cousin TK (Terry Keels), who is one of WCLK’s 91.9, advisory board members and a most cherished longtime Jazz devotee and monetary supporter.

TK confirmed it.  He talked.  I cried.  Then, the both of us talked quietly and faithfully.  Then, the both of us laughed.  TK, having spent time with his cousin just a week ago, said “it is all well.”  We then talked about how her 35 year plus career spanned some many shifts in music and still had so many unfinished projects.  How she was so committed to her children, and always growing creatively, all the while extending the legacy of the famed Pianist Marylou Williams. 

Oh yes!  Allen was special.  Veeeerrrrry special.  TK said, “I knew something was going on when as early teenagers during family gatherings Geri would play the piano and one hand would go flying this way and the other would go in the opposite direction.   And, it all sounded good!  The family would just look at one another!”

Geri Antoinette Allen was born June 12, 1957 in Pontiac, Michigan, and raised in Detroit.  Her father, Mount V. Allen, Jr., was a principal in the Detroit public school system, and her mother Barbara Jean, was a defense contract administrator for the U.S. government.  At the age of seven, Allen sat on the piano bench for the first time.  She would go on to graduate from Cass Technical High School, the alma mater of Jazz greats of the highest order like: Paul Chambers, Wardell Gray, Gerald Wilson and Donald Byrd, to name a few.  While in school Allen became a protégé of the late Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, who directed the Jazz Development Workshop and also mentored Saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Violinist Regina Carter, among many others.  Allen graduated from Howard University in 1979, as one of the first students to complete a Jazz studies degree and later earned a M.A. in ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982.  Eth-no-mu-si-col-0-gy!  Allen knew her stuff, she was smart, keen and determined.  She knew the musical legacy she was representing!

Whether Geri Allen was tickling the ivories with the M-Base Collective, Ornette Coleman, Betty Carter, Dwight Andrews, Charlie Haden, Carmen Lundy, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Joesph Jennings, Kenny Barron ( yeah that Kenny Barron) or Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington ( this is the short list ), her highly significant impact alerts all of us to the notion that the continuum of good music - specifically, Jazz music for new generations is essential!  Her body of work both in the classroom, on the bandstand, and as a Mother are roles that all prepared her for what her future would present.  No wonder she is now “Flying toward the Sound” to thunderous applause with the chorus of “Well, Done.”  She will be sorely missed however, we have the awesome opportunity to listen and look for her in between the notes!!  Thank you, lady for the “Unconditional Love!”  Please, go ahead and listen to Geri Allen for yourself!