Geri Allen is an American composer, educator, and jazz pianist, raised in Detroit, Michigan, and educated in the Detroit Public Schools. Allen has worked with many of the greats of modern music, including Ornette Coleman, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, and Charles Lloyd. She cites her primary influences to be her parents, Mount Vernell Allen Jr, and Barbara Jean Allen, and her primary musical influences to be mentors Marcus Belgrave, Donald Walden, and Betty Carter, as well as pianists Herbie Hancock, Mary Lou Williams, Hank Jones, Alice Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, and mentor Dr. Billy Taylor. Allen is an Associate Professor of Music and the Director of the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Allen was born in Pontiac, Michigan. She received her early music education at the Cass Technical High School in Detroit and the Jazz Development Workshop, where her mentor was the trumpeterteacher Marcus Belgrave. In 1979, Allen earned her bachelors degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She studied under composer Thomas Kerr, and pianists Raymond Jackson, John Malachi, Fred Irby, Arthur Dawkins, and Komla Amoaku. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, Allen attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a masters degree in ethnomusicology, returning to New York in 1982, and began touring with Mary Wilson and The Supremes.