Thursday, July 6, 2017

Geri Allen

I have only a few things to say about Geri Allen. I first saw her in Philadelphia in 1986 or 7, the New Music America Festival. Two nights of concerts, and what a strange lineup: Geri solo, ROVA, Borbetomagus (quartet formation), a Roger Reynolds piece, Invite the Spirit (Henry Kaiser/Sang Won Park/Charles K. Noyes). Plus one or two I'm forgetting.

Invite the Spirit was great, much more active than their double LP, which I also like. (I'll have to dig that one out.)

Seeing ROVA was always essential to me at that time, when I had the chance.

Regarding the Borbetomagus set, Donald Miller later told me, "Oh yeah, that wasn't loud enough." This was the brief version of the band with a bass player.

The Roger Reynolds piece was a work for solo baritone voice and recorded media, maybe, I guess. I remember talking to my friends (Fetko and Marky) about how much I really disliked it. A person behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if the composer was in the audience. I'm pretty sure it was Roger Reynolds himself. (Roger, I'm sorry, your piece was bad.)

Geri...I had mixed feelings about Geri's set. She played solo and was obviously someone on the rise. I wasn't convinced it was great, but, it was clear she had something going on. She was just recently out of grad school at Pitt. I should have had such a voice at that time, or even now for that matter.

So I've taken my time to get to the point. I found it so unfortunate that Geri Allen died recently. Sixty is entirely too young for anyone, let alone someone who had so much to offer to the world. I figured she was someone I would encounter eventually, and I'd tell her about see her on a billing with Borbetomagus years ago. No such luck.

Unlike her predecessor as the head Pitt Jazz Studies, she was known to show up to concerts locally. She was more engaged locally, if not always present. So of course I thought at some time I'd be able to sit down with her.

Well, that time has passed with her recent death. I don't know why she died, and frankly I don't care. Not because I'm callous, but because I'm greedy. I wanted that experience of just buying her a coffee and talking music, something I won't have the opportunity to do.

Here's a small anecdote. My friend Jason Gibbs, a doctoral student at Pitt, inherited Geri's office. He told he, "She didn't turn her key in." A few months ago I tried to tell this story to current Pitt students, who got very upset that Geri wouldn't be there. How prescient that turned out to be.

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