WUSF All Night Jazz Focus Artist of the Week: Harry Allen

Harry Allen at the 2019 Suncoast Jazz Festival. Photo: Steve Splane/WUSF.

This week on All Night Jazz we focus on saxophonist Harry Allen. He was born October 12, 1966, in Washington, D.C., but was raised in Los Angeles. He currently resides in New York.

Allen was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father who was a big band drummer. His first instrument was an accordion, but he always knew he wanted to play the saxophone.

He grew to be a perfectionist, telling Jazz Times in 2019, “The important thing to me when I’m recording any song is to not lose the intention of the song. With a few exceptions I won’t record a song unless I’ve looked at the sheet music.

If you get the actual sheet music then you have what the composer either wrote or hired an arranger to write; it’s the actual sanction. I’ll change some things around, but I try not to lose the overall picture.”

Though his impeccable style is firmly rooted in the swing idiom, Allen is a versatile player who has managed to cross over and record with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder.

He’s also shared the stage or recorded with a litany of jazz stars including Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Kenny Burrell, John Pizzarelli and many others.

He has over 30 albums as a leader and has appeared as a sideman on countless others. “Working with him in the studio is a breeze,” says singer Rebecca Kilgore. “He can make decisions very quickly and they’re good decisions. He’s fast and he’s got great ideas.”

Allen is no stranger to Tampa Bay jazz fans having recorded with guitarist Nate Najar and appearing multiple times in our area.

We’ll hear the sweet saxophone sound of Harry Allen, all this week on All Night Jazz.