Skip to page content

Geri Allen

About this Artist

2016 — The 58th Annual Grammy Awards nominated GERI ALLEN as Co- Producer of Erroll Garner’s newly released album The Complete Concert by the Sea for Best Historical Album.

The 47th NAACP Image Award nominated Ms. Allen for Outstanding Jazz Album of the Year for the Erroll Garner’s New Complete Concert by The Sea.

An internationally renowned pianist, composer, and educator, Geri Allen was first exposed to jazz while listening to her father’s Charlie Parker records as a child growing up in Detroit. She received her early music education at Cass Technical High School and the Jazz Development Workshop, where she became skilled in composing and arranging.

At Howard University, Allen began to embrace ethnic music from all cultures and it has greatly influenced her work. She graduated from Howard in 1979 as one of the first to earn a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies. From there, she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron in New York City.

It was jazz educator Nathan Davis who helped persuade Allen to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he headed up the Jazz Studies Program. Allen earned her master’s degree in ethnomusicology at Pitt in 1982.

She went on to perform and collaborate with a long list of jazz greats, including Ornette Coleman, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, Billy Taylor, George Shirley, Charles Lloyd, Russell Malone, and many others.

She has toured with her own piano trio featuring Kenny Davis and Kassa Overall; the Tap Quartet Timeline, featuring Maurice Chestnut; ACS — a trio featuring Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and bassist Esperanza Spalding; and her own quartet featuring Ravi Coltrane, Jeff Watts, and James Genus.

Between 2008 and 2013, Allen released a series of solo piano driven recordings under the Motéma Music label — Flying Toward the Sound, A Child Is Born, and Grand River Crossings. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra commissioned her to compose Stone and Streams, an original work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It was performed in September 2013 as part of the orchestra’s Gala Celebration.

Allen contributed original music to the Peabody Award-winning documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, directed by Lisa Gay Hamilton. And her distinctive arrangements are on American Song by vocalist Andy Bey, which was nominated for a 2004 Grammy Award. Allen’s composition “Unconditional Love” appeared on Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic, which won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year.

Allen was the recipient of a 2008-2009 Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition, resulting in the album Refractions: Flying Toward the Sound as well as collaboration with photographer Carrie Mae Weems on three short art films.

The list of honors for Geri Allen is extensive, and includes the first ever Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. She was the youngest person, and the first woman, to receive the Danish Jazzpar Prize. She also has received the 2010 Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award; Howard University’s Benny Golson Award; and Spelman College’s African Classical Music Award.

After a ten-year career teaching at the University of Michigan, Allen has returned to her alma mater and holds the position of Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, the post once occupied by her mentor Nathan Davis, who retired in 2013.

In March 2014, Allen spearheaded a project that united scholars and artists around the country in a two-hour cyber symposium on Pittsburgh pianist and jazz legend Mary Lou Williams. She also performed original music of her own and of Williams at “A Conversation with Mary Lou: Geri Allen Celebrates Mary Lou Williams” at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in New York City, directed by Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor S. Epatha Merkerson.