Nathan Davis wasn’t able to sleep. The retired educator and founder of the Pitt Jazz Studies program had just learned of the grave illness and subsequent passing of Geri Allen. Davis considered her his protégé.
As word of Allen’s June 27 death spread, Pittsburgh mourned an adopted daughter who solidified her standing in the world of Jazz, a tireless educator, a disciple of Mary Lou Williams and a champion of women in Jazz.
Allen, the director of Jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, had just celebrated her 60th birthday on June 12. She succumbed to cancer while in Philadelphia, surrounded by her family.
A product of Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, Allen was one of the first to graduate from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jazz studies. It was at Howard where she began to embrace music from all cultures and it greatly influenced her work. She met Davis through one of her instructors who had studied under him. After graduation from Howard, and while studying under Kenny Barron in New York City, Davis encouraged her to attend Pitt. She followed Davis’ advice and earned her Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology in 1982.
Davis remembers Allen as a relentless student who immersed herself in music. “I remember one night I played in the city and around midnight I saw her walking down the street; she’d lock herself in (a rehearsal studio) and practiced into the wee hours. I insisted she get in my car so I could take her home— it wasn’t safe for her to be out alone at night.”