The passing of generations is inevitable – and the jazz world is, of course, no exception. But the news that Geri Allen had departed the jazz planet earlier this week – and far too early - hit especially hard. Geri was one of the real forces for good in the music - always a riveting soloist and composer who dug deep into the music’s traditions as well as helping to define its future, she personified the essence of the music. But much more than that, and as the years moved on, she emerged as an inspirational mentor and teacher. The loss is immense.
From the very beginning, and stretching back to the 80s , Geri was a profound and significant presence in the life of Serious. She brought brilliant projects of her own, and she was a collaborator at the very highest level. A series of piano trios leap into the memory, from the delicate intensity of her long association with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, to the consummate trio that came to London a few years ago with Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington – making its own essential statement about the presence of women musicians in today’s jazz.. Not to mention a series of terrific meetings – in duo with Courtney Pine, or as featured soloist in a Tom Bancroft big band project that we commissioned and toured some years back, or as pianist with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. And memorably, with the great singer Betty Carter, with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. If you can - find the live recording from their Festival Hall concert….
And of course, she was her own muse. She created music that was expansive, challenging and always conceived with commitment and insight - not just into the music itself, but into what lies behind the music – the history, the politics and the culture that fires jazz. And whoever she worked with and in whatever context, she demonstrated the art of the great jazz musician – the ability to listen and respond to the surroundings, but always sounding like no-one else but herself.
Her final performance here was at last year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, in the company of Terri Lyne and David Murray – a telling expression of the power that the African-American jazz story continues to exert. Geri nearly didn’t make this concert – she was hospitalised a few days earlier, but her commitment and drive took over, she travelled to Europe for a short tour following the London concert. Little did we know that something more devastating might lie behind.
As well as her immense contribution to music, Geri Allen was a warm and generous spirit, a valued friend to many of us in the jazz community throughout the world, and a caring parent. Our thoughts and sympathies are first and foremost at this sad moment with her family. It’s been a privilege for us to have been a small part of a massive legacy.