By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Jazz drummer and producer Carl Allen told some of those war stories young jazz payers love to hear during his visit to Bowling Green State University.
Anecdotes about being in the studio with their musical heroes. About being back stage with a legend like Art Blakey – and getting a life lesson.
And the students came ready to play for him, so he could share some of the knowledge he’s accumulated over the years.
On Thursday night those in the two big bands, even got the chance to perform with his inimitable beat getting them in the groove.
But the stories, the notes, even the groove, was not the main lesson Allen had to share
“It’s about love,” he told the students. That’s what he and all the other visiting artists who come to campus are about, the musician said. They love the music, and they want to share that love with students.
Whatever criticism he had of their playing, he told those in a master class for jazz combos, was delivered in that spirit. The same spirit in which Blakey brought him up short when Allen was 23 and complained about a drum set provided on a gig.
“Do you play the drums or do the drums play you?” Blakey, who’d used the same set, asked him.
The way the young musicians can reciprocate is by asking questions.
That’s what Allen did when he first arrived on the scene in New York while still a student at William Patterson College in New Jersey.
An older drummer told him they let him into the fraternity of jazz drummers because he clearly loved the music. He showed it by being a pest. He constantly asked questions of drumming greats like Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach.
He urged students to have that same kind of curiosity.
Allen has been on campus since Thursday. In addition to his work in campus, he stopped by the high school to work with the jazz students there Friday morning.
He’ll play with the jazz faculty band Friday and Saturday night starting at 7:30 p.m. at DeGage Jazz Café, 301 River Road, Maumee. Then on Sunday he will participate in the 3 p.m. memorial concert for Roger Schupp in Bryan Recital Hall on campus.
A native of Milwaukee, Allen grew up with music in the house. He loved funk acts like Kool and the Gang and the Ohio Players. Then his older brother, the trumpet player Eddie Allen, pointed out that a lot of the harmonic underpinnings of those acts came from jazz. So Carl Allen shifted course in that direction, and it’s taken him around the world.
He always assumed he’d have a career in music. That’s meant being more than a performer at the highest level, but also developing the business side as a producer for himself and others as well as being an educator.
That’s what brought him to Bowling Green this week. He’s been here a couple times before he said, and almost attended here as a student.
Toward the end of his time at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay he decided to transfer. The school had agreements with three schools he was interested in attending, BGSU among them. Instead he chose William Patterson because of its proximity to New York City.
Aspiring musicians, he said, “don’t have time to flounder.” A student can’t kick back and watch TV. His first few years in college Allen was practicing eight hours a day.
Now students have far more distractions with the burgeoning world of social media.
Students shouldn’t cut out social media completely “because you still have to function among your peers,” he said. They need to strike a balance.
“The business is so much more competitive,” Allen said. “Because things shift much faster than they once did, one has to be more focused than before.”
The changing times mean a loss of some opportunities and a growth in others.
“Live entertainment not necessarily a top priority,” Allen said. Even when people go out to listen, they drag their cell phones with them.
“You play a club and it’s virtually impossible to play a whole set without looking out and not see someone texting on their phone,” Allen said.
“When I was coming up I had a choice: Was I going out to stay with Freddie Hubbard or join Dexter Gordon’s band? I had offers.”
These were not just for a few gigs, but commitments of two or more years.
“That sort of thing doesn’t exist as it once did,” he said. “Things are cyclical, and I hope that will come around again.”
Allen continued: “The flip side of that is it has forced people to be more creative about how they get their art out there. … How do I become a leader on my own?”
He has students on the road leading their own bands. They do it by using the same social media channels, such as YouTube to build their brand.
“You have to find a way to get your music out there,” he said. “You have to approach your journey with a great deal of urgency.”
Allen stresses “the importance of having a vision and being able to follow that.”
“Of the majority of folks who have had become very successful that is the common denominator.”