Henry James Allen, Jr.
January 7, 1908 - April 17, 1967
Photographs from the collection of Jack
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Red Allen is one of the jazz immortals that migrated North from New
Orleans in the 1920's. During an exceptional musical career that spanned
six decades, he set many standards for big band trumpet soloists and, during
the fifties and sixties, was the elder statesman of jazz. He is remembered
for his highly creative and individualistic style which, as it developed
and matured, anticipated many of the innovations introduced by younger
generations of musicians. Many of his early recordings had a profound influence
on musicians of the 1930's and must be assigned a significant place in
the development of jazz. In a career that produced hundreds of recordings,
it is a tribute to his dedication to the music, and his personal growth,
that recordings made in the 1957-59 period are often cited as his best.
Henry Allen, Jr., an only child, was born to Henry and Juretta Allen,
in Algiers, Louisiana (1908), the home base of his father's well known
marching band which was formed in 1907 and continued to perform into the
early 1950's. He wasted no time in making a career choice; at 8 he was
marching with his dad's band and, at age 15, playing with The New Orleans
Stompers led by jazz great George Lewis. In 1924 he played in the venerable
Excelsior Band and in 1925 co-led a group with John Casimir. Captain John
Handy led the house band at the Entertainers' Club and Red joined him for
a while ('26) before departing for St. Louis and the St. Louis-Cinncinati
riverboat Island Queen. Here he joined The Southern Syncopaters
led by Sidney Desvigne.
During the winter of 1926-27 Treasury agents were successful in shutting
down the major Chicago speakeasies and, consequently, put many musicians
out of work. This included King Oliver's orchestra which in March, 1927
left Chicago to embark on a series of one-nighters. This road trip did
not go well and the band, after several defections, wound up stranded in
St. Louis. At this juncture, King Oliver sent for Red - recommended by
Kid Ory and Paul Barbarin - who returned from New Orleans and joined the
band. Fortunately, Oliver was offered a short stay at the Savoy Ballroom
in New York: Red was to get his first trip to New York and, on the last
days of his stay there, make his first recordings - with Clarence Williams
for Victor. After two months at the Savoy, Oliver was offered a residence
at the Cotton Club which he turned down (money), and which Duke Ellington
accepted. Red returned home and played with Walter 'Fats' Pichon at the
Pelican Cafe (summer 1927), and in the fall joined Fate Marable on the Strekfus
riverboat Capitol where he would remain for more than a year.
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In 1929 Red accepted a recording contract with Victor which was looking
for someone to counter the immense success of Louis Armstrong's Okeh records.
He returned to New York in the spring of that year - having been offered
jobs with the Ellington and Russell bands - and, in addition to his own
recordings, recorded with Walter Pichon and Teddy Bunn, The Luis Russell
Band (which he joined), Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, Victoria Spivey,
and The Louis Armstrong Orchestra. These 1929 recordings were well received
by the public and musicians alike, especially the July recordings with
the Russell band. But it was several recordings cut during 1930 that revealed
the depth of Red's talent, originality and creativity - Louisiana Swing,
Saratoga Shout, and Stingeree Blues. In late 1931 Red filled
in for Sidney de Paris at a Don Redman recording session (Brunswick) and
contributed his memorable solo on Shakin' the African. In 1932 vocalist
Billy Banks and Irving Mills organized a recording group that included
Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Dorsey, Pops Foster, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller,
Zutty Singleton, Gene Krupa, Al Morgan, Red Allen and others. The recordings,
done in several sessions, are available under Billy Banks name as The
Henry Allen Collection, 1932, Vol. 1 (Collector's Classics CD-1).
As one might expect from such talented musicians, these are excellent recordings
with some exceptional performances by Russell, Dorsey, Hawkins and Allen.
In early 1933 Red left the Luis Russell Orchestra and spent several
months with Charlie Johnson's band, then joined The Fletcher Henderson
Orchestra (June) replacing Rex Stewart as the group's leading soloist. Also, at
this time, in partnership with Coleman Hawkins, he signed a recording contract
with the American Record Co. (Columbia) and recorded many popular tunes
of the day, almost all with Allen vocals.
Many would argue that the 1933-34 Henderson orchestra was the premier
swing band of the 1930's. The group's superb personnel, combined with the
extraordinary arranging talents of Fletcher and Horace Henderson, led to
a number of jazz's most influential and important recordings, many featuring
Hawkins and Allen solos. Many an improvised Allen solo was written into,
and became a permanent part of, an Henderson arrangement. Much of Red's work on
these sides is analyzed extensively in Schuller's The Swing Era. Financially,
1934 was a tough year for jazz bands and the Henderson orchestra was disbanded in
late summer. In October, the Benny Goodman band was in a similar position and
Goodman, along with John Hammond and Benny Carter, attempted to organize a
European tour featuring more than a dozen well-known American musicians, including
Red. The all-star group was to include personnel selected from a number
of the best bands of the day, both black and white. However, according to
down beat (Dec. 1934) problems with British booking agents could
not be worked out and the tour never materialized.
In the fall of 1934 Red - along with his colleague, the great trombonist
J.C. Higginbotham - joined Irving Mills' Blue Rhythm Band where he would
remain until October 1936. The Mills Blue Rhythm Band often served as backup
for Mills' other two major bands - Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington - and
also accompanied several popular vocalists of the day. The band recorded
for Columbia and in spite of the commercial nature of the sessions produced
several notable recordings. The band consisted of top musicians and included
a great brass section(22k jpeg). During this period
Red also made many recordings under his own name, and some of the sides
on the Collector's Classics label (CC13) - Henry Allen and His Orchestra,
1934-35, Volume 1 - are considered by many to represent some of his finest.
From October through December, 1936 he often played at NYC's Hickory House
with a group led by Eddie Condon and Joe Marsala. This quintet - which
also included Joe Bushkin and Morty Stuhlmaker - was one of the first racially
integrated groups to perform on 52nd street. Earlier in 1936, Red had recorded
with Condon and Marsala, backing vocalist Putney Dandridge.
In March of 1937 Red began a 3+ year tenure with the Luis Russell band
which featured Louis Armstrong. In recordings made by this band, he is
buried in the brass section, but for performances he often received billing
as well as a moderate amount of solo time. He continued to make his
own recordings as well as some with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, James
P. Johnson, Lionel Hampton, Ida Cox, and others. The Armstrong-Russell
band was dissolved in late summer 1940 following a grueling schedule of
one night engagements. After gigs with Benny Goodman's sextet (10/40), Red
formed his own sextet.
During the 1930's, Red had composed three numbers: Biffly Blues('29), Feeling
Drowsy, and Ride Red Ride, the later being a derivative of Tiger Rag.
A comprehensive discography and forthright analysis of Red's early recordings
is found in the Evensmo and Borthen reference. This book is highly recommended.
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In late 1940 the new sextet opened a one year residence at Cafe Society
in New York where, at various times, the group featured Billie Holiday,
Lena Horne and Art Tatum. After a long stay at the Ken Club in Boston,
often visited by Sidney Bechet, the group traveled to the Downbeat Room,
Garrick Stage Lounge in Chicago in mid-1942, to Kelly's Stable, and then
back to Chicago in October 1943 for a year and a half. After a short trip
to San Francisco the sextet returned to the Onyx in New York (10/45 until
6/46). Billie Holiday was often featured at the Chicago and New York engagements.
The next several years would continue to see the group's time divided primarily
between Chicago, Boston, and New York. Occasionally Red, who was influenced
to some degree by the boppers, would stop at Minton's Playhouse to join a be-bop jam
session. To dispel any idea that this influence got out of hand, one is referred
to a description of one such session. The Red Allen-J.C.
Higginbotham Orchestra performed at the Carnegie Hall 'Poll Winners Concert'
in March of 1947 and, Red participated in the 'Cavalcade of Jazz' broadcast
(NBC Chicago) in May of '47 along with Dinah Washington, Hot Lips Page,
Jack Teagarden, J.C. Higginbotham, and others.
During the forties Red's recording activity was limited when compared
to his 1930's output. He recorded with Jelly Roll Morton ('40), Sidney
Bechet ('41), and his own sextet ('42/43,'44,'46). The '42/43 recordings
were made for the Armed Forces Radio network and played overseas. Live
radio broadcasts were recorded in New York in 1947 (WNEW Saturday Night
Swing Session) and, Red and Bobby Hackett were recorded live from Bill
Green's Rustic Lodge, No. Brunswick, N.J., on several occasions ('49-'51).
In 1951 he returned to New Orleans for a vacation and, also, for a recording
session with clarinetist George Lewis with whom he had played nearly 30
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From 1952-54 Red played at Nick's, the Stuyvesant Casino, and enjoyed
long engagements at the Central Plaza Cafe (NY) and the Savoy Cafe (Boston).
From the Central Plaza Red's band, with Willie 'The Lion' Smith, participated
in the WMGM 'Dr. Jazz' broadcasts in 1952. Their broadcasts are preserved
on Dr. Jazz, Vol. 9: a Storyville CD (STCD 6049). In 1954 he became
the house bandleader at the Metropole Cafe (NYC), beginning what he later
referred to as the seven year gig. The Metropole had two bands
which played continuously from 7:30 p.m. 'til 3:30 a.m., and for several
years there were even matinees (1:30 - 7:30). Other resident players at
the Metropole included Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, J.C. Higginbotham, Buster
Bailey, and Claude Hopkins. For several years, the 'other' band was co-led
by Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. Also, in August 1954 Red Allen's Metropole
All-Stars appeared on CBS-TV with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and their orchestra.
During fall 1956 Red Allen and an all star sextet - The Natural Giants -
appeared on the Steve Allen Show.
On July 4, 1957 Red's group, joined by Jack Teagarden and Kid Ory, was
recorded live from the Newport Jazz Festival and, in December, he appeared
on CBS's TV-special The Sound of Jazz which featured Billie
Holiday and included a number of jazz greats. This excellent performance,
directed by Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff, is available on videocassette.
A rehearsal held four days before the TV show is also available as a Columbia
CD, The Sound of Jazz. The Allen All Stars' two numbers - Wild
Man Blues and Rosetta - are available from the show's soundtrack
on Phoenix(LP24) and Pumpkin(116) records.
In March-April 1957 Red reunited with Coleman Hawkins (their last recording
had been in 1933) to record 11 tunes for RCA-Victor, subsequently re-issued
on a Bluebird CD - World On A String. An excellent rhythm section
led by Marty Napoleon(p) provides the foundation for some great Allen and
Hawkins solos. For Red, his solos on I Cover The Waterfront and
Love is Just Around The Corner are often cited by critics as among
his best. Also, check out 'SWonderful, played at a blistering tempo.
More excellent recordings were made with Coleman Hawkins on December
16,1957 (Standards And War Horses) and August 8, 1958 (Stormy
Weather) under the Jazz Groove label. These sessions have been re-issued
on Jass CD-002 (USA). In March of 1958 Red traveled to San Francisco to
accompany Langston Hughes in a reading of his poetry. At this time the
'Jazz and Poetry' movement was in full revival. This Leonard Feather-Charles
Mingus production, Weary Blues, is available on CD from
Polygram-Verve,1990. In 1959 Red recorded 14 sides with Kid Ory which were also well received.
In the fall of 1959 Red accompanied Kid Ory and his Dixielanders to
Europe - it was Red's first visit and he enjoyed it immensely, as did European
audiences, reviewers, and critics. Red was particularly well-received in
Britain and would return again in 1963 and 1964, this time to play with the
Alex Welsh Band. During the '64 tour, he received an award in Manchester for
his contributions to jazz music.
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In the early sixties Red continued to play at the Metropole, as well
as other NYC jazz spots - particularly The Embers, and made occasional
trips to Boston and Chicago. In September, 1961 the Allen Quartet had two
live recording sessions at the London House in Chicago, followed by a third
early the following year, and a fourth in March, 1963. Red's orchestra
also produced 12 sides for Verve Records in late 1960. In October 1962
Red's All-Stars opened the fall jazz season at the Caton Inn, Brooklyn.
In July of 1964, a benefit to help with medical expenses was held for Eddie
Condon at Carnegie Hall. Eddie was upset that the event featured two 'big bands'
(Bob Crosby's and Woody Herman's) rather than his favored dixieland ensembles.
However, Red Allen's moving vocal on I Ain't Got Nobody -- backed by Pee
Wee Russell, J.C. Higginbotham, Willie 'The Lion' Smith -- turned out to be the
highlight of the concert, removing some of the salt from Condon's wounds.
In 1965 Red played at the Monterey Jazz Festival and then began a residence
at the Blue Spruce Inn on Long Island with a quartet that included Lannie
Scott/Sammy Price (p), Benny Moten (b), and George Reed (dr). Live recordings
were made at the Blue Spruce Inn during June and August of 1965. In late 1965
Red's quartet moved to the L'Intrigue Club and then, in early 1966, to Jimmy
Ryan's, on 54th Street.
Sadly - at age 58 - Red was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late
1966. Nevertheless he embarked on another tour of Britain with the Alex
Welsh Band, returning home only six weeks before his death, April 17, 1967.
On June 4, 1967 a Jazz Tribute to the Late, Great Henry 'Red' Allen
was held at The Riverboat in the Empire State Building. Some of Red's friends
who performed were Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, J.C. Higginbotham, Roy
Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Russell, Zutty Singleton, Wilber de Paris,
Tyree Glenn, Sonny Greer, Tom Gwaltney, Lou Metcalfe, 'Big Chief' Russell Moore,
Bud Freeman, Charlie Shavers, Tony Parenti, Buddy Tate, Clark Terry, Yank
Lawson, Sol Yaged, Jonah Jones, and Jo Jones.
Here is the original press release for The
Tribute to Red.
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Sample Sound Clips
From World On A String, Bluebird 1957.
Visit BMG Music (Bluebird,RCA).
W. Allen, Hendersonia:The Music Of Fletcher Henderson And His Musicians,
(Highland Park, NJ: Walter C. Allen Jazz Monographs No. 4, 1973).
W. Balliett, The Blues Is A Slow Story, Such Sweet Thunder:
49 Pieces On Jazz (Bobbs-Merrill,1966, pp. 335-58).
G. Boatfield, Henry Allen from New Orleans, Jazz Journal,
B. Crow, Jazz Anecdotes (Oxford University Press,1990).
J. Evensmo and P. Borthen, The Trumpet and Vocal of Henry Red Allen,
1927-42. (Norway: Jazz Solography Series, Vol. 8, 1977).
F. Hoffmann, Henry 'Red' Allen, J.C. Higginbotham Discography.
(Berlin: F. Hoffmann, 1982/94).
G. Schuller, The Great Soloists: Henry "Red" Allen,
in The Swing Era (Oxford University Press,1989), pp. 617-31.
M. Williams, Condition Red, in Jazz In Its Time (Oxford
University Press, 1989) pp. 99-104. (Reprint of August, 1962 down beat
article. It describes Williams' visit to a Red Allen recording date in
1962 - very niiice).
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