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Geri Allen: The Nurturer

The brilliant pianist and composer Geri Allen approached her work in jazz education with the same level of enthusiasm, compassion and intelligence, as her many renowned students and colleagues attest

Geri Allen
Geri Allen (photo by Rob Davidson)

On the day that I interviewed her for JazzTimes’ 2010-11 Jazz Education Guide, Geri Allen complained that she was “feeling sick to my stomach … in disbelief.” Earlier that morning, she’d received news that the Detroit Public Schools planned to fire a number of arts and music teachers in an ill-advised budget-cutting move, including the orchestra conductor and music teacher at Allen’s own alma mater, Cass Technical High School.

That visceral reaction should come as no surprise to anyone who knew Allen. In the wake of her passing on June 27, at age 60, she’s been rightly celebrated as a pioneering pianist, an artist whose work encompassed an unusually wide swath of jazz history and offered a model for the 21st-century jazz musician that deftly balanced tradition and innovation. But she was also possessed by an unmatched passion for education, an intense dedication to passing along a torch she felt she’d inherited from forebears like Mary Lou Williams and Dr. Billy Taylor.

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