Monday, January 30, 2012

Harry Allen: A Throwback

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Stan Getz was once asked his idea of the perfect tenor saxophone soloist. His answer was, 'My technique, Al Cohn's ideas, and Zoot's time.”
- Gene Lees

Harry Allen may well be the fulfillment of Getz’s recipe for making the perfect tenor saxophone soloist. His style of playing certainly recaptures the essence of the ultra cool sound and the easy, lyrical phrasing of Stan, Al and Zoot.

For as Richard Morton and Brian Cook state in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD 6th Ed.:

“Allen has been acclaimed by an audience waiting for the Four Brothers to come back, if not the big bands. His full-blooded tenor sound offers countless tugs of the forelock to Zoot, Lester, Hawkins and whichever other standard-issue swing tenor one can think of; and it's hardly surprising that these enjoyable records have been given the kind of approbation that was heaped on the early Scott Hamilton albums. Allen plays nothing but standards, delivers them with a confidence and luxuriance that belie his then twenty-something age, and generally acts as if Coltrane and Coleman had never appeared at all.”

The editors go on the describe Allen’s “steamrollering sense of swing and his sewing of phrases and licks together with the kind of assurance once associated with Zoot Sims.”

Harry Allen can play and he comes to play.

He’s a throwback to a time when tenor saxophonists “plugged in” a rhythm section, planted their feet and “stretched out” into solos that were marked by fleet intensity, a warm, breathy sound and boppish licks.

Harry’s approach to the tenor saxophone finds the melodious aspects of the instrument and brings them to the forefront: no upper register squeaking; no running of seemingly mindless chromatic scales up and down the horn; no lengthy extrapolations that cause the listener to “head for the door” or to “turn that damn noise off.”

Harry’s music makes you stop and listen; it makes you feel good; it makes you smile. Here is the wonder and beauty of music the way The Muses, who created it, meant it to be played.

As is the case with many, younger musicians these days, Harry has his own website on which you can locate lots of information about his background, schedule of performances and a discography.

And here’s a link to a feature about Harry that Stephen Fratallone posted to his Jazz Connection Magazine in September 2005 entitled Just Wild About Harry: Harry  Allen brings His Swinging Mainstream Tenor Back to Jazz’s Forefront that’s just loader with good stuff about Harry.

Given his affinity for the style of playing made famous by the late tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, fittingly, these days, Harry can often be found in the company of guitar Joe Cohn, Al’s son. The two have formed a quartet that frequently records and appears at Jazz festivals and clubs both at home and abroad.

One of our favorite recordings by Harry and Joe in accompaniment is Eu Não Quero Dançar – I Won’t Dance [RCA Victor 74321 58126-2] about which Richard Cook and Brian Morton commented:

“For a change of pace, Allen did a sort of bossa nova album in I Won't Dance- sort of, because he swings it a lot harder than Getz chose to. Instead of the melodies billowing off balmy breezes, there's the odd tropical storm along the way, and it's an agreeable variation on what might have been expected.”

I have selected No More Blues [Chega de Saudade] from this CD as the audio track to the following video tribute to Harry. Checkout the simultaneous soloing by Harry and Joe that begins at 2:55 minutes. Beautifully done and not easy to do without tripping over one another’s solos.