Geri Allen (born June 12, 1957 in Pontiac, Michigan) is an American composer/pianist educator jazz pianist, raised in Detroit, Michigan, and educated in the Detroit Public Schools. Allen has worked with many of the greats of modern music, including Ornette Coleman, Ron Carter, Ravi Coltrane, Tony Williams, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Betty Carter, and Charles Lloyd. She cites her primary influences to be her parents, Mount Vernell Allen Jr, and Barbara Jean Allen, and her primary musical influences to be, mentors Marcus Belgrave, Donald Waldon, and Betty Carter, as well as pianists, Herbie Hancock, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, Alice Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell and mentor, Dr. Billy Taylor. Allen is an Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation in the School Of Music Theatre & Dance, at the University Of Michigan. Allen received her early music education at the famed Cass Technical High School in Detroit and the Jazz Development Workshop, where her mentor was the highly regarded trumpeter/teacher Marcus Belgrave. In 1979, Allen earned her bachelor's degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She studied under composer Thomas Kerr, and pianists Raymond Jackson, John Malachi, Fred Irby, Arthur Dawkins, and Komla Amoaku. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, Allen attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a master's degree in ethnomusicology, returning to New York in 1982, and began touring with Mary Wilson and the Supremes. In the mid-'80s, Allen became a charter member of both the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement a collective including saxophonist Steve Coleman, and other significant contributors. Allen played on several of Coleman's albums, including his first, 1985's Motherland Pulse, and Coleman also played on her composition "The Dancer" on the LP, "In The Middle" (released in 1986), which featured veteran tap dancer, Lloyd Story. Allen also composed "The Glide Was In The Ride", performed by The Steve Coleman Group, listed on the New Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Allen's own first album, The Printmakers, with Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, from a year earlier, showcased the pianist's more avant-garde tendencies. In 1988 came Etudes, a cooperative trio effort with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. In 1995, she was the first recipient of Soul Train’s Lady of Soul Award for jazz album of the year for Twenty-One, featuring Tony Williams and Ron Carter, and the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish "Jazz Par Prize". Allen continued to push the improvisational envelope with Sound Museum, a 1996 recording made under the leadership of Ornette Coleman. The Gathering followed in 1998. The Life of a Song was recorded with veterans Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnetteon drums. Her 2010 album "Flying Toward the Sound" was rated one of the Best Of 2010 on NPR, Downbeat, All About Jazz, and the Village Voice's Jazz Critics' Poll that year. "Timeless Portraits and Dreams" featured NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter, as well as opera icon George Shirley singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing", saxophonist and mentor Donald Walden, vocalist Carmen Lundy, and the Atlanta Jazz Chorus under the direction of composer/multi-reedist Dwight Andrews. In 2006, Allen was commissioned to compose "For The Healing Of The Nations" a Sacred Jazz Suite for Voices, written in Tribute to the Victims, Survivors and Their Families of the 9/11 Tragedy. The Suite was performed by Howard University's award winning Afro-Blue Jazz Choir, under direction of Connaitre Miller. Oliver Lake, Craig Harris, Andy Bey, Dwight Andrews, Mary Stallings, Carmen Lundy, Nneena Freelon, Jay Hoggard, and other jazz greats also participated. The poetry was contributed by Sandra Turner-Barnes. Geri Allen took part in a documentary film titled "Live Music, Community & Social Conscience" (2007) while performing at the Frog Island Music Festival in Michigan. A documentary film that looks at how music connects us to our humanity, and to each other regardless of borders, politics, culture economics, or religion. Allen contributed original music to the documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, director Lisa Gay Hamilton, which received a Peabody Award. Also, Allen contributed orchestrations to Andy Bey's "American Song" which was nominated for a Grammy Award. She was the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim fellowship. Allen's composition "Refractions", was released, in response to her Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition, as "Flying Towards The Sound" along with three short art films by film maker/photographer, Carrie Mae Weems, for Motema Music in 2010. "Geri Allen & Timeline Live" her second recording for Motema, featured bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Kassa Overall and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, and was released simultaneously with "Flying Toward The Sound". Allen received the "African-American Classical Music Award" from the Women of the New Jersey Chapter of Spelman College, and also received "A Salute To African-American Women: Phenomenal Woman" from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Epsilon Chapter at the University of Michigan, in 2008. Allen received a nomination in 2011 for the NAACP Image Award for Best Jazz Album, "Geri Allen & Timeline Live". She was also nominated for both The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in 2011 under the Live Performance Album category, and for "Best Jazz Pianist", by the Jazz Journalists Association. Ms. Allen performed this year in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument Unveiling Concert, "A Theatrical & Musical Celebration Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., MLK: A Monumental Life", presented in Constitution Hall, by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Geri Allen currently teaches as Associate Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation at the School Of Music Theatre & Dance, at the University Of Michigan, and of July 2012 is a curator in New York City at the STONE.
Allen’s piece for the larger ensemble, “Some Aspects Of Water”, is the centrepiece of this programme from the JAZZPAR concerts and has several separate sections, with contributions along the way from Coles, trombonist Kjeld Ipsen, Markussen on bass-clarinet and Allen herself, both her solo and the final ensemble being played in 9/4 time. This piece, which only took its final form during rehearsals with the Nonet, clearly provides ample justification for the strategy of the JAZZPAR administrators in requiring the involvement of Danish musicians. Equally clearly, it is an important step in the career of Geri Allen and confirms her position as one of the pre-eminent musicians of her generation.