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MJF67, Sept. 27-29, 2024


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© Jason McCoy
G. Thomas Allen Quintet
  • Grounds Artist
  • Friday, September 27 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm Pacific Jazz Café

On Sunday, November 14, 2021, a Chicago-based vocalist G. Thomas Allen made history by becoming the first male to win First Place at the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark. Allen wowed judges and music lovers with his formidable, yet fluid vocals, as evidenced by the standing ovation he received when he performed his riveting rendition of Erroll Garner’s immortal classic, “Misty.” Since that fateful night, Allen has graced some of the most prestigious venues in the world and has honed his vivid voice into the amazing instrument it is.

[Winning the competition] was a beautiful experience,” Allen fondly reminisced, “and it changed my life forever.”

Allen’s stratospheric vocals are in full effect on his new recording, Love Affair: Serenades of the Heart; a cool and caressing collection of standards, vocal interludes, and original compositions that narrate and navigate the intricate nuances of romance. The follow-up to his 2020 self-titled album, Love Affair, is a conceptual evolution from Allen’s first record. “The first album is a collection of songs,” Allen says. “I had a lot of melodies, and I wanted to get them on paper and put them out. [The new recording] is a little bit more thematic, more dramatic in terms of the focus. I really wanted to have an album that shows the complexity of love, the good and the bad.”

Supported by drummer Jonathan Pinson, bassist Jeremiah Hunt, pianist Dennis Luxion (who worked with Chet Baker) and alto saxophonist Brent Griffin, Allen’s expressive and elegiac vocals on the album’s 10 selections ride on a melodic, moving magic carpet powered by intricate and evocative moods and grooves.

>Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” is reimagined with Latin rhythms, while Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache,” and the Sarah Vaughan-eseque, rendition of another standard, “Tenderly (Sassy)” are Allen’s divine and mellow shoutouts to those immortal jazz divas. The originals include the multi-tempoed “Love Affair” and the swinging, 4/4 selection “Drowning,” the bluesy, “Wouldja Couldja,” the Quiet Storm-cadenced “Remember,” and the brush-stroked, mid-tempo track, “Something’s on My Mind,” a spin on his original “You & Me.”

With Allen’s new recording, Love Affair: Serenades of the Heart, the vocalist has created an eclectic and accessible, sonic statement that expresses the myriad inventions and dimension of love, and the kaleidoscopic of his artistry. “[The album] reminds me of something Nancy Wilson would have done back in the day, conversational — the very essence of jazz,” Allen proudly proclaims. “I think we did a good job of marrying the genres to offer a fresh perspective to new listeners of jazz, all while paying homage to tradition.”

Allen’s gift for applying his countertenor voice to a multiplicity of musical genres has been with him all his life. Hailing from Danville, Virginia, Allen grew up in the church, and started singing at the age of four. He was fortunate to have an influential teacher, Wesley Boyd, early in life. “He was part of the original Richard Smallwood singers, and he just so happened to be my high school music teacher,” Allen proudly recalls. “He was the reason why I went to Morgan State University (MSU). I was heading to either Berklee or Morehouse. And he said, ‘You got to go to MSU, because they have a world-renowned program, and you'll get a lot of exposure, working under the late Dr. Nathan Carter…’ And so, he drove me up there, I auditioned, and the rest was history. During my freshman year, we toured with Wynton Marsalis, performing All Rise.”

Allen earned both a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Studies, and another BA in Speech Communications from MSU, and he received a Master of Music degree in Music Theatre Vocal Pedagogy from Carthage College. “All my music teachers were great and always encouraged me to sing. They had envisioned me doing classical, which, again, I did at the start of my career as a Wolf Trap alum, and former Los Angeles Opera Artist.” Allen reveals, “Once I started writing music, I knew I had to figure out how to be in a space where I can just be creative and create from within, and jazz answered the call.”

With the great Bobby McFerrin as a main influence, along with Black countertenor Derek Lee Reagan, Allen would perform in a wide variety of musical settings. He was a lead vocalist on several GRAMMY-nominated recordings by Ricky Dillard and New G for Motown Gospel. He also collaborated with esteemed jazz educator/conductor David Baker and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and was a soloist with the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic and the Jason Max Ferdinand Singers (JMFS).

He moved to Chicago in 2015 and was heavily involved in that city’s jam scene for eight years before the pandemic and collaborated with Marquis Hill, Pharez Whitted and Greg Ward — to name a few. He currently teaches as an Assistant Professor of Voice Instruction at Columbia College in Chicago, and is the CEO and Founder of Allen Studios, LLC.