Live Music

A “Universe Opening” Tribute to a Jazz Great

Geri Allen’s abrupt passing brought the music world to a standstill, but that won’t stop her friends from honoring her legendary career the best way they know how.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I can pinpoint the moment I fell in love with jazz to the night I heard Geri Allen play at the Village Vanguard in 2009. It was my first time at the famous underground jazz spot, and I was a total newbie to the scene. The air in the club felt thick with history, and the unique acoustics of the triangular space created a blanket of sound around me. About halfway through the set, when things were really cooking, Ravi Coltrane, her featured sax man, took this incredible solo. He put his whole body into it, writhing and rocking back and forth. I looked at Allen, and she was almost laying over the piano, playing in such an ecstatic and physical way with her eyes closed. The crowd fell into a frenzy, too.

I had a journal with me at the time; I looked back at it when I first heard Allen had died, and most of my scribbles were illegible, but I could make out phrases like “universe opening” and “sky window.” That was the night I realized the profound spiritual impact music could have, and it was the first time I experienced the ecstatic nature of improvisation. There’s a switch that can happen in the middle of a performance where the artist is no longer just performing but transmitting information from another realm. Searching for this “switch” moment is why I love jazz and why I endlessly see live music.

Grief, pain, nostalgia, joy, and love are the feelings that fuel the best jazz and the best music in general. All of these emotions are going to be on overdrive at the Geri Allen tribute shows at the Vanguard, featuring some of the greatest jazz artists and dear friends of Allen, including longtime collaborators Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington. At just 60 years young, Allen had been making waves in jazz and in academia for 35 years and influenced countless artists (and fans), who will be packing into the club to pay their respects to this piano legend. Each night will feature a special guest, including trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton and saxophone maestro Joe Lovano. I’ll be there on August 11 and 12 to see my favorite, Coltrane, headline.

Why You Should Go: The love and grief pulsing through the artists as they honor their beloved friend is going to produce some explosively brilliant music. Come learn about this amazing woman and hear the white-hot, stunning art she birthed into the world and continues to inspire.

A Tribute to Geri Allen
Village Vanguard
178 Seventh Avenue South (between West 11th and Perry Streets), Greenwich Village
Tuesday, August 8–Sunday, August 13
8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Honor one of jazz’s most fiercest performers in Greenwich Village; let us save you a seat