Geri Allen: A Tribute
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/11/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21725
By the time Geri Allen, the pianist, composer and Detroit native who died June 27, 2017 at the age of 60, arrived in New York City in 1984, she had finished one of the most rigorous formal educations then available for an aspiring jazz musician, and it showed
Allen decided to dedicate her life to the art of jazz at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, a legendary incubator of dozens of jazz and pop musicians. Graduates ranged from bassist Ron Carter to trumpeter Donald Byrd. Keyboard player and songwriter Greg Phillinganes, who is a year older than Allen, auditioned for Stevie Wonder while still at Cass and soon joined Wonder for a four-year run that began Phillinganes' own still-ongoing career that has included work with the entire range of contemporary pop and jazz musicians.
As Allen told interviewer Gail Austin in 2015, Cass graduated professionals. But if this exemplary public school education was enough to create professional musicians, Allen herself enjoyed a training regimen outside of the academic setting as well. She was one of the finest products of the thriving Detroit jazz scene of the 1970s.
Her outside-of-school mentors included pianists Bess Bonnier and Harold McKinney, as well as Marcus Belgrave, the trumpeter who was not just a leading performer and educator on the local jazz scene, but a musician whose national reputation and long touring career with various artists and genres gave him the broad frame of reference that Allen absorbed by the time she graduated from Cass and left Detroit to attend Howard University.