Old Time Jazz Great

Musical Home Schooling

Red Allen was born Henry Allen, Jr. to Juretta Allen a year after his father, Henry Allen, Sr. formed his Algiers, Louisiana (just across the Mississippi from New Orleans) marching jazz band in 1907. This only child started his musical career with his father's band, the Allen Brass Band, which was active up into the fifties, until he was 15 where he joined George Lewis and the New Orleans Stompers.

New Orleans to St. Louis

Until he left New Orleans in 1926 to work with Sidney Desvigne's Southern Syncopators, on the Island Queen, a Saint Louis to Cincinatti riverboat tour, he had spent the last couple of years first with the established Excelsior Band, played with the Sam Morgan Band, then partnered an ensemble with John Casimir before his last house band gig with Captain John Handy at the Entertainers' Club. Red crossed paths with the King Oliver band, The Dixie Syncopators, when he was on his road trip after finding the work in the speakeasys curtailed thanks to zealous Federal agents.

New York Interlude

Introduced by Paul Barbarin and Kid Ory from New Orleans, Allen joined them and Oliver for their two month trip (his first) to the Savoy Ballroom, and to Victor recording studios with Clarence Williams.

Back Down to N'Orl'ans

The Cotton Club's offer for Red Allen to join this most famous venue was obviously too low, as Red let Duke Ellington take the opportunity, and he went back home. That summer of 1927 he was playing at the Pelican Club in New Orleans with Walter "Fats" Pichon, and a few months later hooked up for a year on the river with Fate Marable on the ship, the Strekfus Capitol.

Competition for Louis Armstrong

1929 was a year that Okeh records was triumphing with Louis Armstrong's talent, but Victor company saw an window of market share in Red Allen's virtuosity, so he was brought back to New York City that spring. He was able to work with Luis Russell and Duke Ellington for jobs as well as after sitting in recording sessions with Walter Pichon, Jelly Roll Morton and the Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong, and Victoria Spivey he had his own releases. He was like so much, especially with his meshing with Luis Russell, that he joined that band.

Thriving in the Thirties

The recordings that Red Allen did during the early 1930's are legendary, his talent announced by trumpet: Saratoga Shout, Louisiana Shout, and Stingeree Blues. When Sidney de Paris was unavailable for an of 1931 studio ensemble on Brunswick, Red Allen's searing solo was captured in Shakin' the African. Irving Mills and Billy Banks pulled together some of that era's greatest talents to back their vocals in studio, and Allen held his own, no problem alongside Tommy Dorsey, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, and Fats Waller. Also included, no room to included all, were Pops Foster, Pee Wee Russell, Zutty Singleton and All Morgan.

1933 was a year of changes for Red Allen, he signed with another label, along with Coleman Hawkins, American Record Company, which would evolve into Columbia, and he joined up with Charlie Johnson's group until summer. That is when he became a member, when soloist Rex Stewart departed -- of what could be considered the top swing band of the thirties -- The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. Horace Henderson helped Fletcher arrange the music, and they took full advantage of Allen and his friend, Hawkins' talents.

Depression and Succession

Money was tight by 1934 and Henderson could not hold that large bunch together. John Hammond and Benny Goodman's attempt to get many of these hard-pressed musicians from black and white big bands to tour Europe fell through as well. Fortunately, just before winter of that year, Allen, along with his esteemed associate, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, got an opening for the next two years with the Mills Rhythm Band. This group backed up Irving Mills' vocals and helped him with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and joined them in cutting some good wax with Columbia as well as putting out what some rate as his best work, whether playing horn or singing. He backed singer Putney Dandridge in studio with some musicians whom with by 1936 he would be playing regularly in a rare integrated quintet of Eddie Condon, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, and Morty Stuhlmaker at New York's 52nd Street Hickory House. He was reunited with Luis Russel and Louis Armstrong in 1937 for the rest of the decade, but was almost lost in the crowd, but he not only made his own recordings, he was associated with various artists which inclueded Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Ida Cox, James P. Johnson and the great Billie Holiday. During this time he was the author of Biffly Blues, a version of Tiger Rag: Ride Red Ride, and Feeling Drowsy.

Fortuitous Forties

By the summer of this new decade, the demand for playing burned him out, and he was finished with Russell's group. He found time this year to record with Jelly Roll Morton. By the fall he liked the sextet format with Benny Goodman, so by winter he formed his own, getting a years' stay at New York's Cafe Society starring an assortment of headliners like Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Lena Horne. Before arriving in Chicago's Garrick Stage Lounge in 1942, they did a stint that joined Sidney Bechet (with whom he recorded) at the Ken Club in Boston; and the Downbeat Room. They left for New York and Kelly's Stable but were back for another eighteen months in Chicago. Billie Holiday appearing with them in both great cities. His group recorded during the War years while performing for the Armed Forces Radio network most broadcasted abroad. They traveled to San Francisco before coming back and doing Boston as well as the NYC and Chicago clubs, sometimes flirting with impromptu be-bop at Minton's Playhouse. He, with co-band member trombonist Higginbotham, was still firmly in the traditional camp as exemplified at the Poll Winners' Concert at Carnegie Hall in March, 1947, and then that May was on the NBC broadcast "Cavalcade of Jazz with allstars such as Dinah Washington and Jack Teagarden. That year he also was archived when on WNEW's Saturday Night Swing Session, and from 1949 to 1951 when playing with Bobby Hackett at Bill Green's Rustic Lodge in New Jersey. He went back to his roots, New Orleans in 1951 for some time-off, but made it a working interim period when he had a three decades before nostaligic recording get-together with George Lewis.

Fabulous Fifties

1952 started a couple of years of his band's playing Boston's Savoy Cafe, New York's Nick's Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza Cafe, where their live radio play for Doctor Jazz on WMGM was encapsulated (on a Storyville CD #9). Metropole Cafe hired him as house bandleader, which he enjoyed for seven years that allowed him to musically fellowship with his old intimate, J.C. Higginbotham, along with, Claude Hopkins, Charlie Shavers, Cozy Cole; while they shared the club with Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge's band. Red Allen and and his prodigious crowd shared a CBS television production in August of 1954 and two years later he put together The Natural Giants for the Steve Allen Show.

1957 was the year that Coleman Hawkins joined him in April at the studio, a recording drought ended after twenty four years with RCA's cutting eleven wonderful tunes aided by rhythm treatment by Marty Napoleon on The World On a String with frenetic "'Swonderful," "I Cover The Waterfront," and "Love is Just Around the Corner" lauded as the zenith of his artistry.

Independence Day 1957 celebrated at Newport Jazz Festival was special for all, as this big performance that also featured Jack Teagarden and Kid Ory was taped. As Christmas approaced, CBS put the Allen All Stars on their Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff directed televised special: The Sound of Jazz (available today on videotape and CD {Columbia}, LP {Phoenix, Pumpkin}, notably his Wild Man Blues and Rosetta) which featured Billie Holiday as well as other stars. December 16 of this year he partnered with Hawkins again for more pinnacles of the genre in Standards And War Horses, and in the next August he was also produced on that Jazz Groove label's Stormy Weather. 1958 was the year of the beat poetry and jazz movement and Red became part of a springtime in San Francisco foray playing while Poet Langston Hughes read lines from his pieces -- all produced and captured by Charles Mingus/Leonard Feather as Weary Blues (Verve CD). Kid Ory and his Dixielanders gave Red his first opportunity to visit Europe in 1959, and their success, especially England, allowed subsequent tours in 1963 and 1964, a year he won an award for his contributions to Jazz in Manchester while playing with Alex Welsh.

Sizzlin' Sixties

At the very opening of the sixties Allen recorded a dozen sides as an orchestra for Verve while he played in New York clubs like the Embers as well as in his homebase, Metropole. He formed a quartet for a September appearance in 1961 at Chicago's London House the start of four live recordings that repeated through to March of 1963. In between those sessions he opened the Jazz season of 1962 with his All Stars at Brooklyn's Caton Inn. Eddie Condon's big health crisis benefit at Carnegie Hall in July 1964 had some controversy because it presented big bands, Bob Crosby and Woody Herman, rather than his favorite dixieland. How fortunate that Red Allen's appearance there took some sting out of the 'insult' with his singing a great emotional rendition, "I Ain't Got Nobody" accompanied by his friend Higginbotham, and Pee Wee Russell as well as Willie "The Lion" Smith. 1965 appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival and he became a regular performer in a quartet made up of either piano players Lannie Scott or Sammy Price, bassist Benny Moten and drummer George Reed, for the Blue Spruce Inn at Long Isand. He recorded there in that summer and by winter he did the same with this ensemble at L'Intrigue and by 1966, 54th Street's Jimmy Ryan's.

The Last Tour

In late 1966 the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer did not stop Red from scheduling another Great Britain tour with Alex Welsh. Indeed, after his return in February of 1967 his health took a terrible turn of events. In June after the sad day of April 17 of that year, a Jazz Tribute was held at the Riverboat Lounge in the Empire State Building. All of Red's friends, and jazz greats honored him in what everyone knew he would expect, performing: J.C. Higginbotham, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Zutty Singleton, Pee Wee Russell, Lou Metcalfe, Wilber de Paris, Sonny Greer, Tyree Glenn, Tom Gwaltney, Bud Freeman, "Big Chief" Russell Moore, Tony Parenti, Charlie Shavers, Clark Terry, Buddy Tate, Sol Yaged, Jo Jones, Jonah Jones, and Yank Lawson.

Source: AMG
Liberty Hall
Red Hot Jazz

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