Geri Allen and Pitt Jazz Showcased in Panama

Issue Date: 
February 1, 2016

Pianist Geri Allen has never performed at the Panama Jazz Festival, but she seems to know practically everyone here.

Geri Allen (left) at the Panama Jazz Festival with David Murray and Terri Lyne Carrington (Photo by Nate Guidry)It’s the middle of January, and the jazz festival is in full swing. Allen—a Pitt alumnus and the University’s jazz studies program director—is in Panama to headline one of the festival’s concerts and to highlight the global presence of the University of Pittsburgh and its emerging international influence in jazz scholarship and culture.

Sitting in a hotel lobby in the City of Knowledge section of Panama City, Allen recognizes bassist John Patitucci, who is in town performing with his brother, guitarist Tom Patitucci, at Danilo’s Jazz Club. 

The jazz club is a vibrant nightspot owned by Danilo Perez, a Grammy-winning pianist and founder of the Panama Jazz Festival, which began 13 years ago to bring in musicians from around the world to perform, teach, and use music as inspiration to change the world for the better. 

The six-day festival, staged in January, is organized by Perez, the artistic director of Boston’s Berklee College of Music’s Global Jazz Institute, and the Danilo Perez Foundation, which brings music and art to the neediest children in Panama.

“What Danilo is doing is fantastic,” says Allen, referencing all of the festival’s workshops, master classes, and concerts that immerse participants in jazz culture and education. 

As thousands gather in concert halls and on the grassy fields under clear skies, there is great buzz about Pitt’s recent acquisition of the Erroll Garner Archive, a collection of music, audio recordings, photos, and correspondence about the Pittsburgh-born pianist. Allen was instrumental in making sure the collection was donated to Pitt by the estate of Martha Glaser, who was Garner’s longtime agent, manager, and a civil rights advocate. A 3-CD set, The Complete Concert by the Sea, Garner’s best-known recording, was coproduced by Allen and Steve Rosenthal—and is up for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. 

In her concert, Allen headlines a tribute to Randy Weston with the MCA Power Trio, a group she performed with last summer during the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival. Weston performed in Pittsburgh at the New Hazlett Theater in 2015 as part of the Kente Arts Alliance’s “Africa Calling” series. Allen’s tribute to Weston also featured tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray and Grammy Award-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. 

Carrington has come to Pitt’s own annual Jazz Seminar and Concert to perform and work with the University’s students. Allen and Carrington work together in many settings, including a trio with bassist Esperanza Spalding. Allen notes, “Performing at the Panama Jazz Festival created a wonderful opportunity to reach out and invite others” to Pitt’s annual jazz concert, which at 46 years old, is the longest-running event of its type in the country. 

“I hope to have Danilo participate in our Pitt Jazz Seminar in the near future,” Allen says.

And, given Allen’s passion for jazz and for her work, she’s sure to be noting other standouts on that list, too, as she plans for the November 2016 Jazz Seminar and Concert at Pitt.