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Geri Allen: A Life of Service

The pianist passes on to her students the lessons that were given to her

Geri Allen
Geri Allen with students

The recent documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work follows the comedy grand dame and plastic surgery poster-child for a year, during which she opens her autobiographical one-woman show triumphantly in Edinburgh and tragically in New York, wins Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice and becomes the grudging honoree/victim of Comedy Central’s annual celebrity roast. Through it all, the septuagenarian survivor reveals a brutal honesty about her own status as both show business icon and tabloid punchline and exhibits, above all, a ferocious determination to continue working at all costs.

“That’s a jazz life,” insists Geri Allen, raving about the film. “She’s saying, ‘I’m 75 years old, but they’re going to have to do a lot to jump over this hurdle I’ve created. I ain’t going nowhere.’ And I’m watching her and I’m thinking, ‘That’s the same language as a jazz musician.’ Understanding that there are hills and valleys, moments when you’re hot, 10-year lapses, why do you do this? Do you love it enough to weather the storms that come along? That woman is gonna make herself busy even if she has to work the chitlin’ circuit, because she has to-because she loves it. And that’s a jazz musician’s life. That’s what I try to instill in my guys and girls.”

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