GERI ALLEN: THE ERROLL GARNER JAZZ PROJECT
FRIDAY, APRIL 22—ZATARAIN’S WWOZ JAZZ TENT, 4:10 P.M.
In the world of jazz, much is made of the company one keeps. By that measure, pianist/composer Geri Allen has collaborated with all-time greats, beginning in Detroit with her early mentor Marcus Belgrave, then branching out with Steve Coleman, Kenny Barron, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Arthur Blythe, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Cyrille, Charles Lloyd and many others. She also achieved a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Pittsburgh. “I met brilliant artists, actors and poets there, such as Greg Tate, Calvin Reid and Kabuya Bowens-Saffo, who greatly inspired my work and expanded the way I thought about music. Dr. Amoaku, a master drummer from Ghana, was teaching an ethnomusicology class then and he introduced me to Dr. Nathan Davis who invited me to study ethnomusicology at the University of Pittsburgh. He became my mentor and I would eventually return to Pitt to teach after 30 years on the New York City jazz scene.”
Geri Allen’s solo career launched in earnest with the highly acclaimed effort The Gathering in 1998. Although deeply rooted in jazz, her music is a richly layered tapestry that can at times be dense and at other points offers an ethereal, spiritual light. Allen elaborates in her own words: “Music is a gift from God and I feel blessed and so very privileged to be a musician. I am moved by the spiritual power of John and Alice Coltrane’s music for instance. So clear and direct in intention. [Pianist and composer] Mary Lou Williams highlighted scripture infusing her music with great healing power. Music can change the dynamics of the moment in a variety of ways and we are attracted to it for the many aspects of our humanity it reflects. The social times of singing the blues together, like when we hear the Queen of Soul or the Motown songs that became the soundtrack of my youth. These all have their connections to the joys and challenges of living life day to day. I appreciate the variety that is the breadth of choices. Choices are important.”
Geri Allen’s performance at Jazz Fest will feature a tribute to Erroll Garner. She explains how this project came about. “Mary Lou Williams raved about Erroll Garner and was a staunch supporter, acknowledging him as one of her favorite piano greats. When I first heard his playing I was in high school and my father had Concert by the Sea in his record collection. It was a revelation hearing the piano played that way. His had a very individual expression—virtuosic and jubilant. We want to celebrate his genius and the importance of his contribution to the people of New Orleans. This will be my first time coming to your iconic city and I am very happy to come celebrating Erroll Garner.”