Jazz Studies Professor Featured on Grammy-Nominated Album

Carl Allen is the drummer on a record nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble
Carl Allen sits behind a drum set with drum sticks in his hand and smiles while looking to the side and playing

Carl Allen, William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri Endowed Professor of Jazz Studies, is the drummer on “Remembering Bob Freedman,” a tribute album to the celebrated music arranger nominated for a 2023 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

When asked about the Grammy nomination, Allen said it was a pleasant surprise. His casualness about the nomination could be because he’s been featured on Grammy-nominated ‑ and Grammy-winning ‑  records before. It could also be because Allen’s focus in music isn’t on awards, but the love and community involved in making it.

“Competition and music don’t always go together for me, I don’t like keeping score,” Allen said. “It’s the love and support – all of the awards and accolades should never overshadow the music itself.”

Allen’s belief in community is part of what drew him to teaching. He is in his second year at UMKC; prior to that, he taught at Juilliard for 14 years, including six years serving as artistic director of jazz studies.

“One of the reasons why I’m drawn to teaching is I really enjoy helping young people, “Allen said. “When you see a person who has a gift and burning desire to get better, you want to try and create opportunities for them. I’m trying to create a nurturing environment here where people feel supported.”

The environment is part of what drew him to UMKC. Allen’s predecessor as professor of jazz studies, Bobby Watson, is also personal friend of many years. When Watson retired, Allen knew the opportunity was worth pursuing.

“I knew I wanted to be part of a program that was respected by leadership. When the music is respected, you can get traction to really get things done,” Allen said. “When I came for the interview and met the dean and faculty, I felt that the music was really respected and part of a larger vision.”

“When you see a person who has a gift and burning desire to get better, you want to try and create opportunities for them. I’m trying to create a nurturing environment here where people feel supported.” - Carl Allen

In his time at UMKC, Allen has created more opportunities for students and faculty to be a part of that larger vision.  He invites in faculty who may not traditionally be involved in the jazz program so that his students are exposed to more perspectives and teachings. He also brings in guest artists to teach workshops and master classes.

“Professor Allen has played with many of the greats, and he has countless anecdotes and information that he shares with students,” said Pete Fucinaro, UMKC Conservatory graduate student in music. “I don’t think there has been a single musician or record I have mentioned that he has not heard. He is deeply invested in the music and traditions.”

“Part of the jazz tradition is ‘each one, teach one,’” Allen said. “You should always try to help people because other people helped you, it’s how we further the music. Relationships and resources are cyclical, you’ve got to create relationships with people.”

Relationships have contributed to Allen’s success in music, including his most recent Grammy nomination. Allen has played with Ron Carter, legendary bassist featured on “Remembering Bob Freedman,” many times throughout his career. When asked to play with Carter at the Jazzaar Festival in Switzerland in a concert to honor Freedman, he knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He didn’t know it would lead to a Grammy nomination.

“Playing with Ron, that’s history. He’s in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most recorded jazz bassist,” Allen said. “When I got the call to play at the festival, there was no talk of an album – it was just the festival and a couple of concerts. They recorded the festival performance and here we are.”

You might think that earning Grammy nominations and wins is a highlight of Allen’s career. But when asked about highlights, Allen told the story of a former student of his who went on to become a professional musician.

“When I think about all of things I’ve done and the people I’ve played with, making an impact on people is just as important to me,” he said. “The way I see it, I’m just a vessel. I’m just an instrument being used to try and help people.”

Learn more about Conservatory

Published: Jan 31, 2023

Top Stories