Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Howard University Jazz Ensemble '78


This post is in honor of the brilliant jazz pianist and composer Geri Allen, who died today at the age of 60.

I do a lot of thumbing through used records. Every once in a while I come across an LP by a college jazz band. When I do, I always check it out, with a look at the personnel list to see if anyone in the band went on to a professional jazz career. Usually not - but when I found Howard University's 1978 jazz ensemble album at a record store near my house a few years back, I was excited to see that Geri Allen was one of the several keyboard players on the record, and that she had composed one of the tunes.

Detroit-born Allen was one of my favorite jazz pianists. She managed to keep one foot in the mainstream of jazz and one foot in the avant-garde. Her playing had a slightly "skittery," off-center quality that reminds me of Elmo Hope or Joe Albany. Her compositions were interesting - bluesy, funky, and spacey. I saw her perform with her trio at the Atlanta Jazz Festival when she was a young woman, and was lucky enough to see and hear her twice with Dwight Andrews in recent years.

Allen recorded with the Howard Jazz Ensemble all four years she was at the school; she was a junior when this album was recorded. One thing that set the Howard band from this period apart from other college jazz bands is that all the material is original, written by the students and faculty. I love that aspect of the band, although, truth be told, most of the music is not that great. Allen's original, "For Real Moments," is by far the best thing on the album; the tone colors and chord voicings are quite personal and original.

Here's "For Real Moments," since you're unlikely to hear it anywhere else. The tenor saxophone soloist is Arthur Dawkins.

So long, Geri.

For Real Moments

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