By SUSAN JONES
The late Geri Allen, who led Pitt’s Jazz Studies program from 2014-17, will be remembered in an academic journal that she helped to revive.
Jazz and Culture — founded in 1993 as the International Jazz Archives Journal by Pitt’s first Jazz Studies director, Nathan Davis — is seeking proposals and submissions for a special issue on Allen, who was a world-renowned pianist.
Michael Heller, associate professor in Pitt’s music department and editor of Jazz and Culture, said the publication had been produced sporadically from the 1990s until Davis’ retirement in 2012. When Allen came to Pitt, “She wanted to revive the journal and asked if I would edit it,” Heller said.
It relaunched last year under the new name. And while it is housed at Pitt, Jazz and Culture is “an international, peer-reviewed journal that invites contributions from scholars all over,” Heller said.
“She hired me, she was instrumental in my being at Pitt, and she really set the tone for the jazz program moving forward,” he said. “She was an absolutely unbelievable educator. Even with her schedule of touring, and all of her recording projects and all these different things, every time I would meet with her, … her first questions were always about our individual students.”
The issue focusing on Allen, which will be published in fall 2020, will be the fourth under the new name. Abstracts of 300 to 500 words are due by July 15, 2019, and the full manuscripts will be due by Sept. 1, 2019. Heller said he is hoping to get three or four 10,000-word pieces to anchor the issue.
“There have been a lot of tributes in the popular press and the trade press that do sort of smaller remembrances,” Heller said. “But what we’d like this to be is an invitation for people doing more extended academic work. Really study Geri, study her influence and study her impact on the music world.”
Heller said Allen, who died at age 60 in 2017, was a “tremendously influential voice on piano over the last 30 years, and a lot of it really came out after she passed. So many pianists who are major, major names in jazz now — people like Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn and others — came out and said, ‘You know, Geri was my initial inspiration.’ She had such a different sound than what other people were doing in the 1980s. It just swept over jazz like a whirlwind and has been a crucial ingredient of what people do with the piano ever since.”
In addition to being in touch with the roots of jazz, with tributes to people like Mary Lou Williams, she also would engage with more cutting edge music, from Ornette Coleman’s avant-garde style in the 1960s to Cecil Taylor and the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), a Chicago collective of black artists.
“People know Geri Allen, the musician, the jazz star and the pianist. But they don’t always know that she had formal academic and scholarly training as well,” Heller said. “She got her bachelor’s from Howard University in jazz studies. And then she got a master’s degree in ethnomusicology at Pitt in the early ‘80s.
“She was always very interested in jazz’s origins and of African-American music and African Diasporic music,” he said.
Heller said the Department of Music is excited to have Nicole Mitchell Gantt joining the staff as the newly created William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies. She started at Pitt earlier this month.
“Geri is irreplaceable, but I really can’t think of a better person to carry the torch forward than Nicole,” he said.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.