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The Geri Allen Trio, with Tap Dancer Maurice Chestnut, to Perform at Oberlin on Feb. 12

Feb. 03, 2009

Marci Janas ’91

Allen ShonnaValeska
Geri Allen
Photo credit: Shonna Valeska

It is unusual, to say the least, for a jazz combo to feature tap dancing as part of its program. But that’s what audiences will see when the internationally acclaimed jazz composer and pianist Geri Allen brings her award-winning sound—and tap dance prodigy Maurice Chestnut—to Oberlin College for a free concert by the Geri Allen Trio on Thursday, February 12, at 8 p.m. in Finney Chapel. Audiences might also recognize a familiar face on stage; Allen’s drummer, Kassa Overall, is a 2005 graduate of the Conservatory. Rounding out the trio is bassist Kenny Davis (not to be confused with trumpeter Kenny Davis, formerly of Oberlin’s faculty). The program will be announced from the stage. The concert is presented with the sponsorship of Oberlin’s Jazz Studies and African American Studies departments and is part of Oberlin's celebration of Black History Month.

Allen has another connection to Oberlin; she participated in tutorial sessions at Detroit’s Jazz Development Workshop with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, Visiting Professor of Jazz Trumpet at Oberlin, and the late trumpeter Donald Walden, once a member of Oberlin’s jazz studies faculty.

According to a spokeswoman for Allen, the musician is constantly seeking to reinvent, to keep her program fresh and engaging to audiences. Allen had the idea of adding tap to her shows for years, but it wasn’t until she spotted Chestnut, a protégée of Savion Glover, at a performance in New York City two years ago that she found what she was looking for. Tap has traditionally been associated with jazz music—think Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the Harlem Hoofer’s Club of the 1920s—but incorporating it into contemporary jazz music performances is something new, and Allen can be credited for that.

Geri Allen
Since 1982 Geri Allen has recorded and performed with musicians as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Sir Simon Rattle, Vernon Reid, Ron Carter, Mary Wilson and the Supremes, Tony Williams, Charlie Haden, Marianne Faithful, and Wayne Shorter, among many others.

Grounded in tradition but poised on the cutting edge, Allen was invited by the legendary Ornette Coleman to record with him—a rare collaboration given that Coleman had recorded with a pianist only once, 35 years previously. The sessions produced Sound Museum, a work in two volumes (“Three Women” and “Hidden Man”), for Verve in 1996. Her own recordings include The Printmakers, The Nurturer, Maroons, Twenty-One, and Eyes in the Back of Your Head (Blue Note); Twylight and The Gathering (Verve); and The Life of a Song and Timeless Portraits and Dreams (Telarc). Of Timeless Portraits, radio host and cultural commentator Tavis Smiley says: “Jazz pianist Geri Allen has taken the freedom of jazz and combined it with the cultural freedom movements that have paralleled the evolution of jazz itself.”

A recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Music Composition, Allen has been at work composing an original solo piano piece celebrating three important pianist-composer-innovators: Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock. Motema Records will release Refractions, Flying Toward the Sound, and Allen will perform the work throughout the 2009-11 concert season in major museums and concert settings internationally.

Her work as a composer has garnered numerous awards as well as commissions from organizations such as Lincoln Center, Music Theatre Group, American Music Theatre Festival, and Stanford University. Most recently, the Walt Whitman Arts Center and Meet The Composer commissioned “For the Healing of the Nations”, a sacred jazz work that was composed in tribute to the victims and survivors of the 9/11 tragedy, and which premiered on September 10, 2006.

Allen is Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Kassa Overall
Kassa Overall (OC ’05) studied percussion at Oberlin with Billy Hart and Michael Rosen; his other mentors include the late Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Tutti Heath, and Larry V. Jones. He has toured the world, and performed with Donald Byrd, Slide Hampton, and Christian McBride, among many others. He has appeared at such top jazz festivals as Montreux in Switzerland, North Sea in The Netherlands, and the Detroit International. Overall, who began performing with Geri Allen in 2006, also tours with her internationally.

Kenny Davis
A native of Chicago, acoustic and electric bassist Kenny Davis is now a fixture on the New York jazz scene. He has appeared with such artists as Freddy Hubbard, Cassandra Wilson (he was a music arranger for a song on her Grammy Award winning CD Blue Light Till Dawn), Abbey Lincoln, Diane Reeves, and Art Farmer. He has studied with Ron Carter, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Northeastern Illinois University and a Master of Music degree from Rutgers University. He teaches at the University of Connecticut.

Maurice Chestnut
Maurice Chestnut, a protégée of Savion Glover, is an original member of the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble. His extensive list of credits includes his appearance at Carnegie Hall and throughout Europe with the Geri Allen Trio as a featured soloist, and his performances in productions with Glover such as Bring In ’Da Noise, Bring In ’Da Funk, Improvography, Classical Savion, Tappin’ Into Monk, Invitation to the Dancer and on ABC-TV’s Dancing With The Stars.  The youthful dance virtuoso has been featured on NPR and was named “one of the 20 New Jersey faces to watch for in the new century” by the Newark Star Ledger. He will be joining opera legend Jessye Norman for her “Sacred Ellington” concert at Carnegie Hall on March 7, 2009; Norman discovered Chestnut when he was sitting in with Allen at the Village Vanguard last December.






 


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