Allen’s 12-piece jazz band to perform

At Troy Kitchen on Thursday
Phil Allen.
Phil Allen.

Trombonist and arranger Phil Allen has been around, from his native Indianapolis to San Francisco and Colorado Springs. He has been writing music for big bands since the 1970s, but, as he said recently, “you have to have something to write FOR. The days of going out on a road band are over.”

So, after moving to the Capital Region in 2014, he started a big band, the Phil Allen Concert Jazz Band. It began when he and drummer Mike Benedict met on a gig and decided to gather some local musicians to run through some of Allen’s arrangements. The 12-piece ensemble that resulted has had a couple of homes, the latest being Troy Kitchen in Troy, where the group will perform on Thursday, April 20.

Allen’s musical studies started with piano at 7 then trumpet at 10. His trumpet teacher (and later, arranging teacher) was Jim Edison, one of the best lead trumpeters in the Midwest. After a brief time at Hanover College, Indiana University and Indiana Central, Allen left school and began studying piano and theory. In the 1970s and ’80s he played with and wrote for the John Von Ohlen/Steve Allee Big Band. He called that period “better than going to school. It was on-the-job training, learning from some of the finest musicians around.”

He has so far been impressed with the musical scene in the Capital Region. He said “I’ve never lived in a town where you could go hear somebody six nights a week. And it’s so diverse.” He also made note of the number of talented musicians in this area. “There’s a lot of great players around here,” he said. “There’s just an unbelievable number of guys to draw from.”

That musical diversity has enabled him to sit in with a variety of groups, such as The Hot Club of Saratoga and Skip Parsons’ Riverboat Jazz Band, which feature earlier styles of jazz. “I was brought up in Indianapolis,” he said, “and the good players in Indianapolis could play anything. They could do whatever the gig called for. My first trumpet teacher kind of drilled that into my head.”

Another of his teachers worked at his home with a group of teenagers. “One week he would bring out his big band book and we would play [Count] Basie charts. The next week he would bring out German tower music [small bands would sit in towers around town and play polkas].”

A friend advised him: “You take every gig that comes along, and you play everything they put in front of you to the best of your ability.”

Allen’s instrument these days is the valve trombone, on which he began in high school and has kept playing since. Is there any advantage of the valve horn over the traditional slide instrument? “I think there is. This is just my opinion, and any good trombonist is going to argue with me, but I think the valve trombone is more accurate. If you take the time, the horn is much more accurate. You can do more intricate stuff with it. … To me, for bebop, I think it’s a better horn.”

He is pleased to have Tyler Giroux, a fellow valve trombonist, in the Concert Band. “We may be the only band ever with two valve trombonists,” he said.

Cory Nelson, the owner of Troy Kitchen, had no plans to offer music when he acquired the place. “There was no stage,” he said, but “there was a website that showed you how to build a stage, so I followed the instructions and now we have a stage. We added some speakers and here we are.”

For now, he is having music every other Thursday, but he would like to make it every week. “Thursday is a unique night,” he said, “but doing music every other Thursday confuses people; they don’t know which Thursday is the one.”

He is looking forward to hearing the Phil Allen Band in his venue. “Phil is very enthusiastic. He is going to bring a really classy, elegant style of jazz to the place,” he said. “I want people to feel, ‘Wow, I’ve never felt this type of experience.’ ”

Allen feels the same about the band. “We’re going to record it,” he said. “I would love to find someone to distribute it. And I want to do some festivals.”

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