Photo from the artist’s website
The death of pianist, composer and educator Geri Allen at the age of 60, in Philadelphia, was announced last night. She had been suffering from cancer.
Writing on the WBGO public radio website last night, David Adler announced: “Geri Allen, a widely influential jazz pianist, composer and educator who defied classification while steadfastly affirming her roots in the hard-bop tradition of her native Detroit, died on Tuesday in Philadelphia. She was 60, and lived for the last four years in Pittsburgh.”
In the New York Times, Giovanni Russonello wrote: “Perhaps more than any other pianist, Ms. Allen’s style — harmonically refracted and rhythmically complex, but laden with inertia — formed a bridge between jazz’s halcyon midcentury period and its stylistically diffuse present. She accomplished this by holding some things constant: a farsighted approach to the piano, which she used to both guide and goad her bandmates; an ability to fit into a range of scenarios without warping her own sound; and a belief that jazz ought to maintain contact with its kindred art forms across the African-American tradition.”
Allen, born in Pontiac, Michigan, educated in Detroit, Washington DC and Pittsburgh, moved to New York, studied with Kenny Barron, and in the mid-1980s became a charter member of M-Base movement. Her debut album was 1984’s The Printmakers.
She worked with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, and many others, and became the first woman, and youngest person, to win the Danish Jazzpar Prize.
Quoted in the Detroit Free Press, Oliver Ragsdale Jr., president of the Carr Center in Detroit, described Allen, the centre’s first artistic director, as “warm, intellectual, someone you could talk to and smile with”.
“A way of thinking about Geri is as a renaissance woman… She spanned generations with her music. She was a role model to many.”
In April 2017 she appeared in an all-star trio in Boston with Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington, and was due to appear in Europe this summer as part of The McCoy Tyner Project. She was Director of the Jazz Studies Deparment at the University of Pittsburgh.
A tribute to Geri Allen from fellow pianist Liam Noble is currently in preparation and will appear on LondonJazz News in due course.