Saxophonist JD Allen’s musical career seems to bring him such joy: He loves the exploration, growth, the hard work. Allen recently released an album of all ballads, titled Love Stone, featuring bassist Gregg August, drummer Rudy Royston, and guitarist Liberty Ellman. In a recent WBGO interview, Allen said that the all-ballads album was a real challenge: “I’ve listened to so many ballads. Whittled it down to nine tunes I thought I could play pretty on. Maybe it’s a love letter to myself. Maybe I’m the dearest, maybe I’m the pretty one.”
In a departure from his regular trio, Allen will be bringing bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Malick Koly to The Jazz Gallery for two sets for a group he’s calling his “young blood trio.” Once considered a Young Lion himself, Allen moved to New York from Detroit in the 1990s and immediately began working with an impressive cross-section of the jazz community, including notables such as George Cables, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and Butch Morris, and contemporaries like Orrin Evans, Gerald Cleaver, Eric Revis, Marcus Gilmore, Meshell Ndegéocello, and Duane Eubanks. We had a wonderful conversation via phone this week, covering his exploration of these ballads, as well as working with young musicians, and his hope to one day score a film.
JD Allen: Alright brother, shoot away.
The Jazz Gallery: Great, let’s jump right in. Congrats on the new album, I really like it, it sounds fantastic. Have you been pleased with its reception?
JDA: Yeah, I’m pleased. People have listened to it. But already, I’m on to the next one. I’m recording in January, and now my energy is going toward putting together the material for that. I only look at the reception for a little bit to see if I can get any insight into what I could have done better.
TJG: What does that insight look like, in terms of the latest album?
JDA: I had some changes as far as my mouthpiece, and some people commented on the sound, which is good. Initially, I was pretty afraid to release an all-ballads recording, because it felt so anti-now, everything is about fast pace. But I can’t honestly say I ran across any press that was negative. People commented on tone, and I was working on my sound just for this ballads recording, you know. Now, I’m planning on going in another direction. Hopefully I’ll be doing a recording with tenor saxophonist David Murray, so I’m working on the material for that.
TJG: Duo saxophone, or with band? Gregg and Rudy?
JDA: It’ll be two tenors, bass, and drums, without piano or guitar. I’m thinking of probably having Gregg and Rudy, but I might make a departure on this one. I don’t want the water to get too still. Plus they’re both pretty busy, so I want to give them the space to do what they have to do. I might make a departure just for this record.
TJG: A couple more questions about the last album. I think it’s beautiful, and very much of-the-times, to have an all-ballads album. Everyone needs a moment to slow down. Did you have any artists in mind who have done similar all-ballad albums?
JDA: Definitely. Of course. Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, John Coltrane. I considered Branford Marsalis’s record Eternal as a model of where I could go. I even tried taking it from a perspective as if Sonny Rollins had done a ballads recording, and was checking out a lot of his ballad stylings, and using that as a model also. The tenor saxophone has a rich tradition in ballad playing, so there was a lot to pull from.