Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Marshall Allen Honored at Visions Festival on June 10th by Ronaldo Oregano [jazzpolice.com]
Marshall Allen Honored at Visions Festival on June 10th Written by Ronaldo Oregano Tuesday, 26 May 2009
“Allen has taken the Arkestra in new directions as its director, all the while maintaining his singular voice as one of the most distinguished altoists of his generation.” – Clifford Allen, All About Jazz
A member of the Sun Ra Arkestra for more than 50 years, and its director since 1995, 85-year-old multi-reed player Marshall Allen will receive the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from Arts for Art and the Vision Festival. On Wednesday night, June 10th, Allen will perform two explosive sets of music with two unstoppable groups. In between, Bill Cole and his Untempered Ensemble will honor Allen’s creative majesty with a piece of music written especially for this night.
Marshall Allen has left an indelible stamp on The Sun Ra Arkestra’s body of work and the entire universe of improvised music. In special appearances outside of the Arkestra’s fold, this great musical legend has collaborated with everyone from the pianist Paul Bley to the percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1924, Allen began playing clarinet around the age of 10, inspired by the music of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. In 1942, at age 18, Allen joined the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry, also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers, and played in army marching bands and dance bands. While stationed in Europe, Allen worked with the pianist Art Simmons, jammed with Don Byas, and recorded with James Moody. During his army years, he also took up the alto saxophone.
Following his discharge from the army in 1949, Allen enrolled at the Paris Conservatory of Music, where he studied clarinet with Jacques Delecluse. In 1952, After returning to the U.S., he settled in Chicago, where he began composing and leading his own small groups. After hearing an early Sun Ra demo in 1957, Allen sought out and joined the band (then based in Chicago) in 1958.
“When I met [Sun Ra] he was talking about the Creator, and the bible, and the outer space, and the man on the moon, and all of that,” said Allen. “I’m saying ‘Damn! What is this? I came to play some music!’ But then, I didn’t play right way. He kept on talking about his philosophy, and history, and all that kind of stuff. He was a good conversationalist, so I was listening and listening ‘cause I wanted to get in the band. So I just hung around with him, he’s talking and talking, talking music and everything, …until finally he let me stand up by the piano and be in the band.”
Allen has remained with the Arkestra ever since, first leading the saxophone section with John Gilmore, and in 1995, taking over as director. Noted Corey Kilgannon in the New York Times, “[Allen] grew up admiring the styles of swing-era saxophonists like Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Willie Smith and Earle Warren but eventually developed an avant-garde style, mastering overblowing techniques, false fingerings, note manipulations and extreme registers.”
Allen still shares the Philadelphia home with the members of the Arkestra, encouraging the same sense of community that Ra had fostered. “If you’re here, you got a place to practice 24 hours a day,” said Allen. “You can create, and you can get the spirit, and you can build a nice band. And then fulfill your own potential and your own career.” Allen sees it as his responsibility to preserve the music and philosophy of Ra and the Arkestra for future musicians and music fans. “I’m carrying it on, and keeping the spirit rolling, and keeping the music rolling. For the next generation, they wanna know what the last generation done, we got the music and things like that for them to see here. So we’re carrying on the tradition.”
In addition to the Arkestra, Allen has recorded with James Moody (1948-1949), Paul Bley (Barrage), Medeski, Martin and Wood (The Dropper), Alan Silva (HR57), Matmos (Supreme Balloon), Babatunde Olatunji (Olatunji), NRBQ’s Terry Adams (Terrible), and Phish’s Trey Anastasio (Surrender to the Air). As a leader, he released a pair on CIMP in 1998--Mark-n-Marshall: Monday and Mark-n-Marshall: Tuesday. Additionally, El Ra Records released two important Arkestra recordings under Marshall’s leadership: 2000’s A Song for the Sun and 2004’s Music For the 21st Century. His most recent work has included small groups: a quintet with William Parker, Alan Silva, Kidd Jordan and Hamid Drake; duos and quartet with Henry Grimes; and performances with John Medeski, Weasel Walter, and Chromatic Mysteries.
“The music makes you cry, and the music makes you happy, the music can do a lot of things to you,” said Allen. “If you’re sick, the music can make you well. The music can take your mind off a lot of worries and stress. So we use all of that, because people need it and so do we. If I do the music for my well-being, and it works, I can give you some, too. So it’s a constant thing, you can’t own the music, and the legacy of Sun Ra, like other great musicians, is that he left beautiful music for us to study and enjoy and improve on.”
The celebration honoring Marshall Allen will take place on June 10th at Abrons Art Center, starting off with a special set led by Marshall Allen (reeds), with Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), William Parker (bass), Henry Grimes (bass and violin) and Hamid Drake (drums). Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble follows, and the evening will close with Allen leading the Sun Ra Arkestra with special guests Billy Bang and John Ore.
Abrons Art Center is located at 466 Grand Street, New York City. Visions Festival tickets are $25 per night in advance / $30 day of show / $150 for a full festival pass, on sale now at Abrons Art Center at http://www.henrystreet.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AAC_PERF_future or 866-811-4111. The celebration for Marshall Allen gets underway at 7:30 pm on June 10th.
This article based on a press released compiled by Bradley Farberman.