“Tonight we’re here to celebrate a jazz giant, a titan, somebody that left us too soon," bandleader, producer, educator and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington said from the Cistern Yard stage. "But she left us with so much beautiful music and so many reasons to celebrate her.”
Carrington then guided with grace a concert paying tribute to jazz pianist and composer Geri Allen, who died of cancer in 2017 at age 60. The starting trio were Carrington, Craig Taborn on piano and Bob Hurst on bass. Ravi Coltrane would join early in the set.
The list of artists on stage promised a masterclass in musicianship, but this decidedly was not meant feature any individual other than the Allen herself. Nor was it a competition for space or spotlight. Allen’s influence reverberated throughout a set of her original compositions, reverently delivered by everyone on the bandstand. They turned a moderately-sized outdoor venue into an intimate jazz club, and Allen’s spirit was center stage.
A light breeze cut through the stifling, record-setting heat blanketing the Holy City, just as refreshing as Maurice Chestnut’s light-footed tap dancing, which brought a hopeful buoyancy to the remainder of the program. A protegé of Allen, Chestnut was the fifth member of the band and a percussionist in his own right. He was magnificent.
The Cistern regrettably was only half full, and the attentive audience included a “who’s who” of the Charleston jazz community. They responded gleefully to the masters of their craft and to this collective labor of love, returning energy to the stage. Carrington's passion for sharing Allen’s work and spirit was evident. And it was a source of solace, for she is committed to carrying this torch and keeping Allen’s flame well-lit.
I could not help but feel moved to honor my own late mentor, as I was scribbling notes in the darkness. If he were still around, Jack McCray would have been writing this review and I would have been his +1. I imagine Jack and Geri Allen in the company of an illustrious band of jazz angels, smiling down on us all. Titans in life never really leave us in death.
A “Tribute for Geri Allen: Feed the Fire” was a celebration of life for a giant of a woman who was very much alive on that stage. Her legacy and her genius lives on.
Reviewer Leah M. Suarez is a Charleston-based musician.