Kenneth Powell, adjunct saxophone instructor at Pitt, was in the same program with Allen. “We performed together in a group called The Sounds of Togetherness,” he recalled. “Upon her graduation, Geri very quickly developed and substantially, becoming an innovative and influential force in the mainstream and post-modern jazz genres.”
Allen was ever mindful of the trailblazers who left signs along the path for her to follow. “Flying Toward the Sound” (a solo piano suite in eight refractions) is an original composition inspired by three great pianists—Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner, after Allen received a 2008 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Music Composition.
“I would like to think the creative process was more about refracting the admiration and love I have for them through my own muse, and allowing the music to reflect the ways they’ve enriched my journey through the years,” Allen said at the time.
That journey included a 2012 fundraiser concert for the Hill House featuring trio compatriots Terry Lynne Carrington and Esperanza Spaulding (ACS) in the new Elsie Hillman Auditorium.
When she assumed leadership of Pitt’s Jazz studies, Allen hit the ground running. She curated the 2013 Jazz Seminar & Concert bringing vocalist Carmen Lundy and tap dancer Brinae Ali.
Allen revamped the program with additional faculty and outstanding staff and students, according to Deane Root, professor and department chair. “Geri also quickly took a role across campus in many capacities, including diversity initiatives, the Year of the Humanities, outreach programs, the development of resources and archives, and collaboration with other institutions,” Root said.
In March 2014, she conducted a cyber-symposium on Mary Lou Williams with participants in five locations simultaneously across the country. That same year, she helped found the All-Female Jazz Residency, a summer program at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center for young Jazz musicians in their teens and twenties.
“Geri has done much to elucidate the legacy of Mary Lou Williams both as a performer and clinician,” said Dr. Nelson Harrison of the Pittsburgh Jazz Network. “She was music director of the Mary Lou Collective. She also played the role of Mary Lou Williams in the 1996 Robert Altman film ‘Jazz 34: Kansas City.’ Unique to this film was the fact that the musicians were actually playing.”
“Geri was very pro-active in honoring the great Pittsburgh jazz piano tradition,” Harrison told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “She told me how honored she felt to have the opportunity to play a tribute at Billy Strayhorn’s Centennial concert on the same stage that he played when he was a student at Westinghouse High School. She recently spoke with Ahmad Jamal about honoring him at the 2017 Pitt Jazz Seminar to be held in November.”
Allen was co-producer of the recently-released 3-CD set “The Complete Concert By The Sea,” an expanded version of the best-known album by Pittsburgh Jazz great Erroll Garner, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album last year. Allen also helped to secure the donation of the Erroll Garner Archive for the University Library System.
“She embedded her presence in the Pittsburgh Jazz community in the very short time she was with us and will be remembered by all who were fortunate to have known her in one way or another from students, colleagues and community,” said Harrison.
“When you look back at women in Jazz,” said Powell, “she’s going to be among the greatest ever. The synergy of her creativity and technical proficiency made her a powerful force that will be acknowledged for years to come.”
(Geri Allen’s visitation will take place on Friday, July 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. and the funeral is scheduled for Saturday, July 8, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Bethany Baptist Church, 275 W. Market St., Newark, New Jersey. Afterwards, attendees are invited to a repast in the lobby of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center St., Newark.)