Music has been on my mind since viewing the recent televised Grammy Awards that I intended to write about. Then, yesterday I was startled to receive an email informing me Columbus, Ohio pianist Bob Allen, a truly master musician, was experiencing a serious medical challenge. Bob has undergone a double leg amputation. My husband had regularly performed with Bob as part of a piano bass duo years ago.
The Columbus jazz community wants to help Bob by arranging a benefit concert. I am unable to attend but perhaps the information here will reach some interested readers, fans and friends.
Twelve of Columbus’ finest jazz pianists will perform in Mees Hall at Capital University, whose Music Department is well known for producing superb quality musicians.
A great afternoon of jazz is scheduled Sunday, March 6th at 2 P.M.
No Reserved Seating. Donations Accepted at the Door, or send donations to:
Bob Allen Support Fund, 8415 Springston Lane, Columbus, Ohio 43235
Here’s Bob playing his unique piano solo arrangement of “One Less Bell To Answer”
Bob Allen’s music has been enjoyed for almost fifty years with his appearances in the U. S. and Canada. Bob Allen (Phrahin,) blind since birth, spent his early years in Cleveland, where he began studying piano at age six. He studied classical music, graduated from Capital University, played with symphonies, and teaches classical piano. Bob has created a distinctive musical style unmistakably his own with classical influences evident in jazz and pop standards.
“His arrangements encompass a wide range of musical idioms, from well-known standards to original compositions. He is noted for the classical touches which frequently adorn his work.”
Barbara Zuck wrote in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper a very descriptive account of an evening listening to The Bob Allen Trio in the lounge at Hyde Park Grille steakhouse in Upper Arlington, Ohio, north of Columbus. His Trio has appeared there regularly for numerous years having previously performed at various other area popular clubs, restaurants and lounges. Two of Bob’s most well-known Columbus music venues were The Maramor and The Christopher Inn (neither exist now) where famous entertainers including Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, George Shearing (a friend of Bob’s who died recently, also a blind pianist,) Carol Channing, Gordon and Sheila MacRae, Betty Hutton, Julie Wilson - Supperclub Chanteuse, and comedienne Phyllis Diller entertained to name only a few.
Ms Zuck shared her impression of one of Bob’s performances that she attended on an April 2006 night. I was reminded of a summer night three months later when I was in Columbus listening to the Trio after traveling from California to join family and friends. Earlier in the afternoon friends had arranged a special memorial service celebrating my recently deceased husband’s life during which Bob had graciously played a few special piano solo numbers. Ms Zuck wrote the following about her evening listening to Bob’s trio which was much as I experienced the night after the service.
“Midway through the first number, On the Street Where You Live, he [Bob] tore into an improvisation in the 18 th-century counterpoint style of Bach.
‘‘He is like an orchestra," said Paul Hickfang, professor emeritus at Ohio State University’s School of Music. ‘‘He is an orchestra. He commands your attention. He’s an artist with any and all genres of music. He makes me cry, and he’ll make you jump for joy with Bach, Mozart or the Beatles."
Ms Zuck continues:
“On that Saturday night, Allen teased listeners by dropping Rachmaninoff and Schumann into well-known tunes by Richard Rodgers and Henry Mancini.
‘‘I don’t always play what most people call jazz," he [Bob Allen] said. ‘‘I like to take a popular tune and use it as raw material for a composition so that the original song assumes lesser importance than the new piece I am playing. That’s good or bad, depending on how you feel about the song."
I first met Bob at a newly opened Stouffer’s University Inn on Olentangy River Road next to the WLWC-TV station north of Ohio State University where I worked when I first began dating my future husband. My husband-to-be, Morrie, was part of a duo accompanying on bass Bob’s already special piano arrangements. A year or so later the spectacular new Christopher Inn opened down town where the duo began playing regularly. By that time Morrie and I were married. Many of the famous entertainers appearing at The Maramor, or elsewhere, would stop by after their shows to listen to Bob. We moved away from the area, but Bob continued performing, and formed new groups through the succeeding years. The Inn supported Bob recording a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl album of his then trio, a copy of which we were able to obtain when we later visited town and I still have. Bob confirmed a humorous story Ms Zuck relates in her article about Phyllis Diller’s outspoken forceful reaction to an inconsiderate noisy audience member when he was performing. Ms Diller had stopped by to hear Bob play one night after her Maramor appearance.
The Bob Allen Trio of recent years has consisted of Roger Hines bassist and Joe Ong, percussionist. Hines was musical director touring with Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Diane Schuur. He also toured and recorded with Ray Charles until Charles death in 2004. Ong has studied at Bowling Green State University, Capital University, and lectured at Ohio State University. His performances have included tours in the United States and Europe.
Columbus, Ohio has a very active musician community including The Jazz Arts Group of Columbus (JAG.) JAG “is America’s oldest not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to producing, performing and promoting jazz. The Jazz Arts Group (JAG) divides its resources among two areas: performance and education. JAG serves as an “umbrella” organization to the Columbus Jazz Orchestra (CJO.)"
"The Columbus Jazz Orchestra (CJO) was formed as a vehicle to create performance opportunities for jazz musicians in a big band setting,for over 35 years…the CJO audience has the largest jazz orchestra subscription base in the United States. The CJO performs an outdoor summer concert series, JazZoo!, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. JAG has broadened its performance scope by presenting a contemporary music series. The Jazz Arts Group believes in the power of music to transform lives and is committed to offering lifelong-learning opportunities for individuals of all ages, interests, backgrounds and abilities."
I hope the power of music will sustain Bob Allen in his recovery. I look forward to his return to the piano’s 88 ivorys and any adaptations he may choose. Perhaps there will be demand for a re-issue of his unique music creations from some of his previous LP and/or CD recordings.