Wednesday, August 8, 2012


A few weeks ago, I had a JD Allen marathon. JD, I listened to I Am I Am, Shine, Victory and The Matador And The Bull recordings you made with your trio drummer Rudy Royston and bass player Gregg August, the tightest trio I’ve come across in awhile. Before the marathon, I was only vaguely familiar with you. Many of your fans believe you’re a thinking man’s tenor sax player. After I experienced your albums, I have to agree with your fans . 

I knew you grew up in Detroit, and in the late 80’s, you played with the jazz band Legacy before moving to New York. If memory serves me, JD, the other band members—Carlos McKinney, and Ali and Khalil Jackson—moved to New York around the same time.

JD, it wasn’t surprising that all of you succeeded. Before becoming a music producer, Carlos had tenures with Elvin Jones and Kenny Garrett. Ali played in a bunch of top tier jazz outfits, and he landed a dream job, the drum chair of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Khalil's music career was going strong, but he dropped it to work on Wall Street. The last I heard he was a successful broker.

Jazz singer Betty Carter was one of your mentors, I read that on your website. Most of the jazz musicians Carter helped made it big. Mark Shim, Cyrus Chestnut and Roy Hargrove come to mind. Speaking of mentors, mine, writer Bill Harris, loan  me I am I am, Shine, Victory and The Matador And The Bull. 

Today, I replayed The Matador And The Bull. The tunes you wrote for it are really heady. Nothing like the swing my ears are accustom to. Of course, you can swing as Paseillo, Ring Shout, and PinYin proved. Nevertheless, it safe to say you aren’t a swing driven tenor player by nature.

I read John Coltrane was a big influence on you. I bet Branford Marsalis was also. Marsalis is a note monger and so are you. He has an intellectual approach to jazz and you do as well. JD forgive me if my comparison is off base.

Your tunes are short, and I dig that you do more than develop catchy melodies, and then allow your guys to pour their imaginations over them like syrup over pancakes. A couple of songs into The Matador and The Bull I was convinced August and Royston aren’t hog-wild improvisers. Come to think of it, your music isn’t heavy on improvisation. 

Of course, there’s an improvisational component to your tunes, but each is put together in such a way at first glance it appears the trio is making up stuff as they go along, but they aren’t. You designed the tunes to have an in the moment feel.

Those aspects of your composing are there for listeners to witness and adsorb. For years, you’ve recorded with August and Royston and they’re key to your curb appeal. JD, listeners won’t be able to boogie to The Matador and The Bull, which isn’t surprising because you don’t make boogie oriented music. You  make jazz that stimulates the intellect.  
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