Geri Allen, Pianist Who Reconciled Jazz’s Far-Flung Styles, Dies at 60
By GIOVANNI RUSSONELLOJUNE 27, 2017
Geri Allen in 2012. She gained prominence in the 1980s. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Geri Allen, an influential pianist and educator whose dense but agile playing reconciled far-flung elements of the jazz tradition, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Philadelphia. She was 60.
The cause was cancer, said Maureen McFadden, Ms. Allen’s publicist.
Perhaps more than that of any other pianist, Ms. Allen’s style — harmonically refracted and rhythmically complex — formed a bridge between jazz’s halcyon midcentury period and its diffuse present.
She accomplished this by holding some things constant: a farsighted approach to the piano, which she used both to guide and to goad her bandmates; an ability to fit into a range of scenarios without warping her own sound; and a belief that jazz ought to maintain contact with its kindred art forms across the African-American tradition.
Geri Allen at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan in 2012. Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Reviewing a performance by Ms. Allen’s trio in 2011, Nate Chinen wrote in The New York Times: “Her brand of pianism, assertive and soulful, has long suggested a golden mean of major postwar styles. She just as easily deploys the slipstream whimsy of Herbie Hancock, the earthy sweep of McCoy Tyner and the swarming agitation of Cecil Taylor.”
Ms. Allen first came to prominence in the 1980s, when she moved to New York after completing a master’s degree in ethnomusicology. She soon became a part of the loosely configured M-Base Collective, which united rhythms from across the African diaspora with a commitment to experimental improvising.
She also established a long association with the bassist Charlie Haden and the drummer Paul Motian, both veterans of the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s and ’70s, and played with Tony Williams and Ron Carter, former members of Miles Davis’s quintet.
Later, she became the first pianist since the 1950s to record with the free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, who typically resisted playing with pianists, finding them too harmonically restrictive.
A full obituary will be published soon.