Danilo Pérez & Geri Allen: A Live Blindfold Test from Detroit
Posted 10/29/2013

By Ted Panken

Pianists Danilo Pérez and Geri Allen were prominently featured at the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival. As Artist-in-Residence, Pérez presented two opuses: Panama 500 with a world-class unit and Panama Suite with the Wayne State University Big Band. Allen—a Motor City native, as she celebrates on Grand River Crossings: Motown And Motor City Inspirations (Motéma)—helmed a Detroit Reunion Band with George Bohannon, JD Allen, David McMurray, Robert Hurst and Karriem Riggins. A highlight of the festival was their duo concert, which featured original repertoire as well as selections by Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. The concert occurred 90 minutes after they sat together for a live DownBeat Blindfold Test at the Chrysler Jazz Talk Tent.

Barry Harris/Kenny Barron
“All God’s Children Got Rhythm” (Confirmation, Candid, 1991) Harris, Barron, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Ben Riley, drums.

[Silence until Harris’ second chorus]

Danilo Pérez: Barry Harris.

Geri Allen: Kenny Barron? [fist-bump]

DP: The phrasing sounded so authentic, what we define as bebop. My first impression was that this is a master of a language that is not spoken now. I love how you always hear the melody really clearly, then suddenly all this embellishment.

GA: Barry Harris had a profound impact on the scene here in Detroit—on pianists, of course, but he also nurtured a lot of instrumentalists on other instruments. For instance, Barry mentored one of my mentors, Donald Walden. Do you remember the Jazz Cultural Theater he had in New York?

DP: Yes, I went there many times.

GA: I played in the rhythm section there. Late at night, after gigs were finished, Art Blakey would show up, and whoever was playing in town that weekend. A whole crew of young musicians had a place to nurture their talent. You’d have mega-lines of saxophone players [laughs]. As a young musician, I had a safe place to get my footing in New York, a place that was really about the music.

DP: They know the language so well, they have the rhythmic and harmonic knowledge to keep out of each other’s way, which is hard to do at that speed.

GA: It took me a chorus or so to hear that there were two piano players. I first came to New York on a study grant from the NEA, and I studied with Kenny.

Edward Simon Trio
“Intention” (Poesia, Cam Jazz, 2009) Simon, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums.

DP: That’s Patitucci, or someone trying to sound like him. This could be my colleague, Ed Simon. That sounds a lot like Brian Blade. You almost got me; I had no idea.

GA: I remember when Ed first came to New York. He started working with [Greg] Osby and Kevin Eubanks in the beginning. He was a fine player then, and … when was this recorded?

DownBeat: 2009.

GA: OK, not so long ago. He’s really evolved, and his sound is beautiful. Bell-like.

DP: He’s evolved into a voice with something to say. He can color and tell a story. The time is beautiful. Ed and I are part of a generation of musicians who came from Latin America, who understood that a language needed to be learned, and took that as a serious responsibility. We believe in what you’d call the “American way,” but remember our roots.

Geoffrey Keezer
“New York” (Heart Of The Piano, Motéma, 2013) Keezer, piano.

DP: Damn!

GA: Gonzalo Rubalcaba?

DP: This feeling reminds me of a guy I met when he was 17, who really knows the language of Mulgrew Miller, Herbie and McCoy. Geoff Keezer has that fire, that energy and articulation and level of knowledge and clarity in his music. Complete control of that intensity. When I met him, he was playing those double-handed things that came from Phineas Newborn through Harold Mabern and James Williams, and then Benny Green took it to another level. It’s killing.

Helen Sung
“Teo” ((re)Conception, Steeplechase, 2009) Sung, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Lewis Nash, drums.

DP: You got me there. The bass player used to play with Art Blakey.

GA: Is the drummer an elder?

DP: The drummer reminds me of Kenny Washington a little.

GA: Some of the harmonies make me think it’s someone from my generation or his generation. [after] Helen sounded fantastic.

DP: She reminds me of John Hicks, that generation. I don’t know the original key of the tune. That B-minor key is hard to play in like that. You can’t escape. She was flying.

GA: She’s a wonderful piano player.

DP: Peter Washington! I got him! Funny I didn’t guess Helen. She was my student. I should have guessed her.

Chick Corea/Stefano Bollani
“Doralice” (Orvieto, ECM, 2011) Corea, Bollani, piano.

DP: It’s got to be people who play together all the time, who play Brazilian music, but have that eighth-note feel of someone who knows about bebop. I can only think of Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap in duo. I also hear an incredible Brazilian feel, so maybe it could be Eliane Elias and someone else. But it’s not.

GA: The time feel makes me wonder if they are pianists who are not from the States.

DownBeat: One U.S. native, one European.

DP: The only other guy who I’ve heard playing Brazilian music like that, who I was very impressed with, is a piano player from Italy—Stefano Bollani.

DownBeat: That is correct.

DP: The other player reminds me of Chick Corea.

DownBeat: That is also correct.

DP: It’s so killing! It sounds like an old chorinho. It’s hard to play that interactively and not get in each other’s way. The authenticity of the feel was very impressive. Everything was flowing, like a great basketball team.

GA: I was asking if they were from outside the U.S. because it sounded so authentic. Things were falling in the appropriate places for things to fall. The touch was interesting, too.

Tommy Flanagan/Hank Jones
“Afternoon In Paris” (I’m All Smiles, MPS, 1984) Flanagan, Steinway piano; Hank Jones, Bösendorfer piano.

GA: Johnny O’Neal came to mind.

DownBeat: I stated at the beginning that almost everyone I’d be presenting is alive, but in this case, both pianists are gone.

GA: Ah. Tommy Flanagan.

DP: I heard stuff that reminds me of Hank Jones.

GA: Yes, Hank Jones. It was totally Detroit. It threw me off, because as I listened I was thinking, “Who plays like that who’s alive today?” Nobody.

DP: I had the privilege to be with Dizzy Gillespie and touring with Hank, and every night beauty would enter the situation. It’s somebody talking. When I hear this music, it’s not about the virtuosity, but the humanity.

GA: You understand that there’s mastership here, and complete control of everything, this continuum somewhere between ancient and modern where they lie. You can’t really tell how old or new it is, because they always sounded so modern in everything they played.

DP: That for me is what bebop really is—the window to the unknown, as Wayne would say. They’re just talking. That’s the beginning of everything we’re into.


Pianists Geri Allen (left) and Danilo Pérez gave a duo concert at the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival (Photo: Alice Hudder/Detroit Jazz Festival).






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