Music preview: Geri Allen leads her first Pitt Jazz Seminar

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Pianist Geri Allen is coming home -- sort of. Soon.

Ms. Allen, a Michigan native who received a master's degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Pittsburgh, has been tapped to replace Nathan Davis as the new director of jazz studies at the university. She takes that position in January in part because she's on tour with the ACS trio, also featuring bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.

That hasn't kept Ms. Allen, who grew up in Detroit, from stopping in from time to time to make plans for this week's Jazz Seminar and Concert. And while Ms. Allen insists that "the seminar will be a familiar place for people to visit" for those who attend regularly, "we're taking a few liberties."

For the first time the lineup will include vocalist Carmen Lundy and tap dancer, Alexandria Bradley, aka Brinae Ali, who worked with Ms. Allen at the Apollo Theater in New York.

Tap dancer? To Ms. Allen, it makes sense.

"I have been working within this context for some time," she says. "When the music feels good it makes you want to dance."

She notes that Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and other drummers were tap dancers, Mr. Haynes even strutting his stuff last year at the New Hazlett Theater.

"We make that connection, and it's an exciting way to keep younger folks excited," Ms. Allen says.

As for Ms. Lundy, "Nathan has been involved in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center [in Washington, D.C], and Carmen is one of the staples of that program," Ms. Allen says. "I felt that she was a great choice. She's a Mary Lou Williams specialist," and since the late Ms. Williams was a Pittsburgh native, "we're looking forward to opportunities to make that connection."

Other musicians coming in are trumpeters Randy Brecker and Marcus Belgrave, trombonist Vincent Chandler, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Ernie Watts, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Kassa Overall and drummer and Pittsburgh native Jeff "Tain" Watts.

Mr. Davis, who retired in June, will be honored during Saturday's concert, but Ms. Allen is tight-lipped about the specifics, saying, "It's a surprise."

Gratified to be returning to Pitt and appreciative toward the university administration for keeping the seminar going, she says, "I have an attachment to the program in appreciation of what Nathan has accomplished -- archives, studio, Ph.D. program -- and I just want to honor that. The program has been built around bringing actual musicians who created the history into the classroom to talk about what they did."


43rd University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar:

Where: All programs will be located in the William Pitt Union on campus except where indicated.


■ "The Importance of Being Versatile in Today's Music Industry" with bassist Kenny Davis, 10 to 11 a.m. Friday, Room 548.

■ "Tenor Titan and Jazz Master" with saxophonist Ernie Watts, 11 a.m. to noon Friday, Room 548.

■ "African Extensions" with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, Room 548.

■ "A Genuine Jazz Singer" with vocalist Carmen Lundy, noon Saturday, Hill House Association Senior Services Center, 2038 Bedford Ave., Hill District.

■ "Different Approaches to Improvisation: How to Unlock Your Creative Mind" with trumpeter Randy Brecker, noon to 1 p.m. Saturday, Assembly Room.

■ My Time with The Ray Charles Orchestra" with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Assembly Room.

■ "In Conversation with Ravi Coltrane," featuring the saxophonist, 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Assembly Room.

■ University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar Concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. $25 for orchestra seating, $20 for general admission, $10 for students with a valid ID, or 412-624-7529.

Rick Nowlin: or 412-263-3871.

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