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Pianist Geri William Says Jazz is Alive, Well and Thriving

Edith Billups | 4/1/2009, 4:41 p.m.

Don€t tell pianist Geri Allen that the younger generation is not interested in jazz. In fact, America€s classical music is thriving says Allen, who will be performing April 2 at the Strathmore Performing Arts Center in Bethesda, MD.

€Just because you don€t hear it on the mainstream media doesn€t mean that young people don€t appreciate jazz. At the University of Michigan, we are seeing a generation of young people who are playing on a high level and are very dedicated to, and are excited about the music. They are incorporating both hip hop and jazz into their worlds.€

The New York Times called Allen €A jazz pianist who follows an unmarked road€ in a recent article. Allen, a Michigan native and mother of three, will perform at the Strathmore as part of its year-long Music in the Mansion series entitled €A Celebration of the Piano: From Bach to Boogie Woogie and Beyond.€ Her concert will feature her own music, as well as works by some of the celebrated pianists who have inspired her.

An associate professor at the University of Michigan, Allen began playing the piano at the age of seven, and has gone on to play with such greats as Betty Carter, Marianne Faithfulll and Ornette Coleman. She played violin, as well growing up, €but I found the piano to be my comfort zone,€ Allen said.

Of today€s younger generation, Allen said, €When I was growing up, we had instruments in school. Music was a big part of your life, socially, as it has a way of helping to build your character.€

€Because of budget cuts, the generation of young people coming up today doesn€t have as many instruments in school, and they use poems and hip hop to express themselves creatively. Public schools should really emphasize music, and music programs should not be the first thing that gets cut.€

€Our [African American] music has always been a powerful force and source of inspiration during difficult times. It also signaled to the world a sense of optimism during overwhelming odds,€ Allen said.

Allen points to musicians like John Coltrane €who played music of a high vibration, playing music that could change the others. If you listen to his €Love Supreme,€ it€s clearly a prayer.€

Allen said that a larger audience would appreciate jazz if the media provided people with more musical options. Allen has served as an artist-in-residence at several colleges and insists that young people have access to her expertise and wisdom.

€Jazz is a language that you can share with other people,€ Allen said. €You are able to communicate with each other and it€s a wonderful affirmation for humanity.€

Allen will perform a part of €Refractions, Flying Toward the Sound€, a piece that awarded her a grant to assist her in her creative efforts from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The piece celebrates three of the most important pianists, composers and innovators in jazz: Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock. €It [€Refractions, Flying Toward the Sound€] is my point of view of their work and how they inspired me,€ Allen said.

For tickets, visit www.strathmore.org, or call (301) 581-5100.