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Kris Allen inherited a love of music from his mother, a church organist who gave him his first lessons on a tiny xylophone. At a young age, he displayed considerable gifting as a classical pianist, but it was jazz that truly won his heart at age 14 when a friend loaned him trumpeter Lee Morganʼs album “ The Gigolo”. Kris began to devote most of his spare time to listening to great jazz records and practicing the alto saxophone.
Later that year, Kris would enter two venerable jazz academies: First Hall High School in West Hartford CT, known for nurturing many great jazz musicians, (among them Brad Mehldau and Joel Frahm) and then the Artists Collective in Hartford, where all the arts of the African Diaspora were celebrated and taught under founder Jackie Mclean. It was Allenʼs fortune to come under the tutelage of the great Mclean, one of the foremost alto saxophonists in jazz history. Mclean would school Allen in the finer points of blues and bebop language, composition and arranging, and would provide the encouragement and inspiration that propelled the young musician into making jazz music a vocation and lifelong pursuit.
By the end of high school, Allenʼs abilities were starting to garner attention and praise; he was twice named to the Grammy All- American High School Jazz Band and was selected as itʼs Most Valuable Player in 1994. He accepted a full scholarship to continue his apprenticeship with Mclean at the Hartt School of Music. At Hartt he was part of a bumper crop of young musicians (affectionately dubbed “J-Macʼs Dynasty”) and he learned alongside and from his peers, including Jimmy Greene, Wayne Escoffery and Julius Tolentino. Also greatly influential were older musicians and recent graduates such as Abraham Burton, Mike Dirubbo and Steve Davis.
Graduation from Hartt saw Allen moving to New York and diving into a thriving performing career. He began a long association with Kendrick Oliverʼs New Life Orchestra, and played regularly with the Curtis Brothers and Insight, as well as with vocalist Shawnn Monteiro. He also fronted several different groups of his own, and began to develop a mature voice as a composer and bandleader.
In 1999, Kris also began a career as an educator when he was hand picked by Jackie Mclean to teach saxophone and ensembles at the Hartt school. Kris went on to hold positions at Trinity College, Southern Connecticut State University and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. He is presently the Lyell B.Clay Artist in Residence in Jazz at Williams College, a position he started in 2013. He has also been a teaching artist for the Litchfield Jazz Festival since 2001.
Over the next decade Allen went on to perform and/or record with living legends such as Gerald Wilson, Illinois Jacquet, and Mario Pavone, as well as with modern stars like Winard Harper, Andy Laverne and Helen Sung. He co-led several unique and exciting groups with master percussionist Rogerio Boccato, and is the artistic director of the Hartford Jazz Societyʼs New Directions Ensemble. Besides leading his own quartet, today he can be found often appearing alongside his wife, pianist and composer Jen Allen.