Carl Allen: drummer, composer, producer, and educator
Jazz Threads performance date: September 27, 2003
Born 1961 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Getting started: His mom was a gospel singer, one older brother played drums, and another older brother is a well-known jazz trumpet player (Eddie Allen). Carl took up drums when he was 10, played with a drum and bugle corps by age 13, and organized his first jazz group when he was 14. But the experience that pitched him headlong into the field of jazz was his first professional gig: Allen was 16 when the great saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Red Holloway played a concert in Milwaukee for which they hired a local rhythm section. Carl played that gig, the first of many memorable experiences with musical heroes.
Education: University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; New Jersey's William Patterson College
Career highlights: The pursuit of knowledge, experience, and ever-present swing is a recurring theme in Carl Allen's life. He realized a life-long dream—the drum chair in trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's band—in 1982 and stayed with Hubbard for eight years, also serving as the trumpeter's musical director and road manager. Allen has played and recorded with many of the great jazz musicians and remains active as a bandleader (the New York All-Star Band and the Carl Allen Quintet). He always gets a thrill from the communicative nature of live music performance—both in terms of audience response and interaction with his fellow musicians—but some of his most rewarding work today includes opening doors for young, talented artists through his production company, Big Apple Productions, founded in 1988.
Praise indeed: "Allen—a physical, hard swinging drummer of the Art Blakey school—pushes his band mates to abandon their cool reserve so they can testify as if shouting out in church..." (Geoffrey Himes, The Washington Post); "More than just another fine young drummer, Carl Allen has it together as a band leader, businessman and producer, becoming a force in today's jazz world." (Sid Gribetz, JazzTimes)
Latest recording: Testimonial (1994, Atlantic Records)
Style of drumming: deep within the swing tradition of Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones, mixed with early roots of gospel and R& B
Dedicated to education: director of small ensembles in the Jazz Department at The Juilliard School; adjunct faculty member at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia
Words of advice: "Whatever you do please, please, please—yes, please keep swingin'.
Beyond music: Carl Allen is a spokesperson for the organization Jazz against Drugs, which endeavors to educate young people about the dangers of drugs and the cultural significance of jazz.