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Geri Allen: The Gathering

illustration of Geri Allen

When Geri Allen played the Mary Lou Williams role in Robert Altman’s Kansas City, that particular bit of casting bordered on genius because Allen truly is a spiritual descendant of the great Mary Lou. Capable of hard-swinging any bandstand she graces, her own projects generally bear the mark of the composer-in-progress, and in addition to her under-chronicled mentoring skills, those were surely qualities which marked Ms. Williams’ distinguished career.

Fortunately-hopefully-our gender attitudes have evolved a bit from Mary Lou’s time to the point where we have at least put aside that tired old clich that bestowed a seal of approval on women jazz musicians thusly: ‘yeah, she plays great, sounds just like a man.’ Perhaps we can finally arrive at a point where we recognize, examine, and laud the distinctly womanly qualities modern musicians like Geri Allen, Renee Rosnes, Michele Rosewoman, Regina Carter, the soprano playing Janes, Bloom and Bunnett, Virginia Mayhew, and their peers bring to this music that enhances their expression in very distinctive ways. There is a sensibility they bring to this music that can only serve to further advance its cause; these are qualities which are largely in the realm of the intangible at this point, but which will clarify as more women reach jazz prominence, and not women-in-jazz prominence either, for these are clearly practitioners whose work stands up on its own merit.

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