With latest release, jazz career spanning decades, the beat goes on for Burrillville native Harry Allen

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Harry Allen in 2006 [http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielshen/286613593/in/set-72157594236215610/ Harry Allen] |Date= 2006 |Author=[http://www.flickr.com/people/danielshen/ Daniel Shen] Taipei, Taiwan

BURRILLVILLE – It has been a long journey for Harry Allen, from the halls of Burrillville High School to Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Nice Festival in France and even a gig playing at Jerry Seinfeld’s wedding at the height of his popularity. Allen, who has recorded more than 70 CDs, recently released his latest album, “The Harry Allen Orchestra-With Roses.” And the beat goes on, literally, and figuratively.

“I’m not sure what I expected, but being a musician has offered me chances that most people never get, for which I’m really grateful,” said Allen, 57. “Although I’ve never been to Africa, I’ve toured many, many other places. South America, Central America, Russia, Poland, Israel, Tahiti… most of the European countries. I’ve sailed through the Panama Canal a few times.”

Allen’s love for music, particularly jazz music, began with his dad, Maurice (Maury) Allen, who played the drums in various bands around the state, but also in Boston and Washington, D.C. Jazz music resonated throughout the Allen home on Reservoir Road in Pascoag.

“When I was a young boy, my dad would play lots of jazz records for me,” recalled Allen. “It is certainly how I got my love of music. When my sister and I started playing music, my father dusted off the drums and would play with us. We played many gigs together as a family band while I was growing up.”

In high school, Allen would often spend weekends playing the tenor sax, his favorite instrument, with his dad in various venues, adding not only to his talents and skills, but introducing him to the world of jazz and jazz musicians. Eventually, he went out on his own, as a freshman at Rutgers University.

“My first gig in the NYC area was in my freshman year at college,” said Allen. “Bucky Pizzarelli hired me for an event – to sub for Zoot Sims – that happened every year at a Mercedes dealership in Englewood, NJ. Dizzy Gillespie, who lived in Englewood, walked in… I almost fainted.”  

“Very important to my career was meeting John Pizzarelli, who was playing at the club a few blocks from my dormitory in New Brunswick, NJ. I started working a lot with John and started playing at some of the local jazz clubs like The Corner Stone in Metuchen, NJ. I still would play from time to time with my dad.”

At Rutgers, Allen majored in jazz performance and tenor saxophone. Part of the reason for attending Rutgers, located in New Jersey, was so he could be close to the jazz clubs he liked to frequent, particularly in New York City.

“I knew I wanted to be a professional musician, but also knew that college was not the way to go about it,” Allen explained. “I wanted to be able to hang out at the jazz clubs in NYC and hear the greatest musicians in the world, so; I chose a college that I figured would not keep me so busy as to prevent me from going to the clubs to listen – like a school like Juilliard or Berklee might. It all worked out pretty much as I had hoped. I was able to fulfill my college duties and spend a lot of time in the city listening and learning. By the time I graduated from Rutgers, I was making a living playing jazz.”

Since then, Allen, who graduated from Rutgers in 1988, has shared that love of jazz music all over the world. Married to his wife. Swiss-born Ivana, for the last nine years, he has travelled to Melbourne, Australia, Tapei, Taiwan; Seoul, Korea and Japan, as well as Europe, and, of course, all over the United States.

Harry Allen, Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. performing the music of The King of Thailand for the Thai ambassador to the U.S.

“For many years I recorded for BMG Japan and toured all over Japan many times,” Allen said. “I’ve played Carnegie Hall a few times and some of the biggest jazz festivals in the world: The Nice Festival in France; The Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. The biggest crowds were around 10,000 people at The Umbria Festival, and the Newport Jazz Festival.”

Allen says one of the highlights was getting to record at Capital Records Studios in Hollywood, where many of Frank Sinatra’s best recordings were made, with John Pizzarelli and a 52-piece orchestra arranged and conducted by Johnny Mandel, who he notes is, “one of the greatest arrangers and composers of all time.”  

“I also recorded with Tony Bennett and Sheryl Crow on Tony’s recording ‘Playin’ with My Friends’ and performed at Tony Bennett’s big birthday bash at The Museum of Natural History in NYC,” Allen said. “I also played for Jerry Seinfeld’s wedding at the height of his popularity. Another huge honor was having the great bass player Ray Brown – the best bass player in the history of jazz in my book – ask me to do his birthday tour in Europe.”

 Asked why the tenor sax, Allen responds:

“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to play tenor saxophone,” he recalled. “I’m not sure exactly why, but it could stem from Paul Gonsalves, the great tenor player with Duke Ellington in the 50’s and 60’s. My father went to high school with Paul, and they played together and remained friends throughout their lives. Paul’s playing was heavily featured in the records my father would play for me. To this day I consider Paul Gonsalves to be one of the all-time best tenor players. I also play piano – stemming from my days as an accordionist… my first instrument.” 

The albums and CDs just keep on coming. The most recent CD is “The Harry Allen Orchestra – With Roses” which showcases Allen’s arranging in addition to his saxophone playing. It is the music of an Australian composer, Roger Frankham, and was released in 2023 and features vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan and trumpets, trombones, flutes and clarinets. Most of Allen’s recordings since the pandemic have been released digitally as singles. Over the past year or so he has released around 35 singles. 

In David A. Orthmann’s All About Jazz review of Allen, who performed at Shanghai Jazz, a restaurant/jazz club in Madison, New Jersey, in May of 2021, he wrote: “Allen’s contributions to the opening set transpired amid a splendid convergence of circumstances. His tenor sax, an acoustic piano and an upright bass were not miked or amplified in any way. Evincing a tone that was self-contained, free of affectation and rife with nuance he improvised tales in the context of songs from the Great American Songbook.”

Allen was inducted into the Jazz Monsters Hall of Fame at SOKA University of America in 2020, and was a top three finalist for France’s Acadamie du Jazz’s Prix du Jazz Classique for his CD, “Under a Blanket of Blue,” with guitarist Dave Blenkhorn. Three of Allen’s CDs have won Gold Disc Awards from Japan’s Swing Journal Magazine, and his “CD Tenors Anyone?” won both the Gold Disc Award and the New Star Award. His recordings have made the top ten list for favorite new releases in Swing Journal Magazine’s reader’s poll and Jazz Journal International‘s critic’s poll for 1997. His, “Eu Nao Quero Dancar,” the third Gold Disc Award winner, was voted second for album of the year for 1998 by Swing Journal Magazine‘s reader’s poll. He has performed with Rosemary Clooney, Ray Brown, Hank Jones, Frank Wess, Flip Phillips, Scott Hamilton, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Kenny Burrell, Herb Ellis, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Gus Johnson, Jeff Hamilton, Terry Gibbs, Warren Vache, and has recorded with Tony Bennett, Johnny Mandel, Ray Brown, Tommy Flanagan, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Kenny Barron, Dave McKenna, Dori Caymmi, Larry Goldings, George Mraz, Jake Hanna, and Al Foster, among others. Harry is featured on many of John Pizzarelli’s recordings including the soundtrack and an on-screen cameo in the feature film The Out of Towners starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. He has also done a series of commercials for ESPN starring Robert Goulet.

Allen was described by C. Michael Bailey as “the Frank Sinatra” of the tenor saxophone: a master interpreter of standards in 2008. Along with Scott Hamilton, Allen was considered by British critic Dave Gelly in 2004 in The London Journal to be one of the, “finest exponents of swing tenor alive today,” in a review of the album, “Heavy Juice.”

Stan Getz was once asked his idea of the perfect tenor saxophone soloist. He answer was, “My technique, Al Cohn’s ideas and Zoot’s time.”

“The fulfillment of that ideal may well be embodied in Harry Allen,” wrote Gene Lees, jazz writer and lyricist.

“Jazz is not a very popular music these days,” said Allen. “But, it actually might be the best of both worlds because there are situations where people make a fuss over me, but I’m unknown to most of the world; so, I’m free to go about my life without worrying about the troubles with which truly famous people deal.”

As the saying goes, said Allen, you’re only as good as your last performance. He admits there have been times when he has struggled, but that hasn’t slowed him down. It is a, “long term game,” he adds.

“I will continue to record and perform around the world and will continue to release my own singles digitally,” Allen said. ” Last year I released an original Christmas song – ‘Christmas is Here, Can You Feel It?’ – which got over a half million streams on Spotify the past two months alone.”

And the beat goes on…

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