12 June 1957, Pontiac, Michigan, USA. Pianist Allen grew up in Detroit, steeped in the citys strong bebop and black pop traditions (one early gig saw her playing with Mary Wilson and the Supremes), though Eric Dolphy, Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk were also major influences. She studied music at Washingtons Howard University and at the University of Pittsburgh (with Nathan Davis) and later with Roscoe Mitchell. Moving to New York in the early 80s, she played with numerous contemporary jazz musicians, including James Newton and Lester Bowie, and recorded her debut The Printmakers in 1984 with a trio that featured Andrew Cyrille. She also became involved with the M-BASE and Black Rock Coalition organizations and the formers Steve Coleman and Robin Eubanks played on her Open On All Sides In The Middle. Later in the 80s she was a regular member of Oliver Lakes groups (Plug It, Gallery, Impala, Otherside) and toured and recorded with several leaders, including Dewey Redman (Living On The Edge), Frank Lowe (Decision In Paradise), Greg Osby (Mindgames), and Charlie Hadens Liberation Music Orchestra. With Haden and Paul Motian she formed an acoustic trio that has become celebrated for its intimate versions of modern mainstream jazz; and she also guested on Motians own Monk In Motian and Betty Carters Droppin Things.
An acutely sensitive player with a lovely touch, in the early 90s Allen signed to Blue Note Records where she recorded several strong albums, including The Nurturer and Maroons. Her most acclaimed recent work, however, was The Gathering, her 1998 debut for the Verve Records label. On this album, Allen was backed by Buster Williams (bass) and Lenny White (drums), with additional contributions from Vernon Reid on acoustic guitar. In 2006 the Mary Lou Williams collective made a new recording of her Zodiac Suite. Those participating on the recording were Allen, Buster Williams (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.