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October 26, 2017

Pitt Jazz Week to Celebrate Geri Allen’s Legacy

In late October, the Pittsburgh campus comes alive with plans and preparations for the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert — a longstanding tradition and one of the city’s best-known jazz events that attracts hundreds of people to Oakland for its free on-campus seminars and its concert at Carnegie Music Hall.

This year, the mood feels a little different.

Pitt’s Director of Jazz Studies Geri Allen passed away four months ago and the void around the Music Building is unmistakable.

“This is the time of year when the Jazz Studies program really shines,” said Yoko Suzuki, part-time instructor in the Department of Music who grew close to Allen in the three and a half years Allen was at Pitt. “It’s the teamwork of undergrad and grad students and faculty. I still see that, but we’re all missing Geri’s presence.”

Allen would normally be at the center of the activity, but planning sessions and meetings about Pitt Jazz Week 2017, which runs Monday, Oct. 30 through Sat., Nov. 4, continue.

The line-up of international jazz stars coming to campus this month has been in place for a while — Ravi Coltrane, Kenny Davis, Tia Fuller, Stefon Harris, Victor Lewis, Kassa Overall, Nicholas Payton, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. Actor S. Epatha Merkerson will serve as the concert emcee for the second year in a row.

But the nine-member Pitt Jazz Committee is still busy finalizing travel arrangements, designing and printing marketing materials, lining up caterers and monitoring ticket sales for the concert.

Allen coordinated the 2013 Pitt jazz events and then officially joined the Pitt faculty in January 2014, taking the reins from event founder, Professor Emeritus and former Director of Studies Nathan Davis, her instructor while she studied at Pitt, who retired. Allen put her own stamp on Jazz Week, bringing in the Afro Blue vocal jazz ensemble from Howard University one year and tap dancers on two occasions.

So profound was the mark Allen made at Pitt, Jazz Week 2017 will be dedicated to her.

“Geri cared so deeply about this campus, this city, her students and the jazz program,” said Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies Michael Heller. “An artist of her stature could have taught anywhere in the world, and we’re unbelievably fortunate that she chose to lead the program here.”

Pitt Jazz Concert poster

The 2017 Jazz Concert will take place on Saturday, Nov. 4 at Carnegie Music Hall. Click on the image to view the event poster.

A number of this year’s guest artists have performed and collaborated with Allen over the years. Suzuki expects them to perform some of Allen’s compositions. A performance on Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium will feature some of her students — recent ones and ones from the past.

“That small concert will demonstrate what Geri passed on to them,” said Suzuki.

Jazz Week programming features evening lectures, daytime seminars given by the musicians, a community outreach event at the Hill House Senior Services Center and a Tuesday night jam session for student musicians.

As far as continuing Allen’s legacy, there’s no question about it.

“At meetings, she would often refer to the jazz faculty as a team,” said Heller. “And as far as I’m concerned, we’re still Geri’s team.”

“She planted so many seeds,” added Suzuki. “We are determined to grow them.”

If You Go

Jazz Week’s full schedule of events is available by PDF. Tickets to the 47th annual concert at Carnegie Music Hall is available through the University of Pittsburgh Stages Box Office, by calling 412-624-7529, or online at


Sharon Blake,, 412-624-4364


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 5

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