Henry James Allen was born on 7th January 1906 in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of the noted bandleader Henry Allen. He took early trumpet lessons from Peter Bocage and Manuel Manetta; some of his lessons from Manetta were taken together with another promising young trumpeter, Emmett Hardy.
Allen was playing professionally by 1924, playing with the Excelsior Brass Band and the jazz dance bands of Sam Morgan, George Lewis and John Casimir. After playing on riverboats on the Mississippi River, he went to New York City in 1927 to join King Oliver's band. At this time he also made recordings on the side in the band of Clarence Williams. After returning briefly to New Orleans where he worked with the bands of Fate Marable and Fats Pichon, he was offered a recording contract with Victor Records and returned to New York, where he also joined the Luis Russell band, which was fronted by Louis Armstrong in the late 1930's.
Red Allen's trumpet style has been said by some critics to be the first to fully incorporate the innovations of Louis Armstrong and then go beyond Armstrong. Allen's recordings received much favorable attention.
From 1929 on Allen joined Luis Russell's Orchestra where he was a featured soloist until he joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra in 1934. He also made a series of recordings in late 1931 with Don Redman, and played with Lucky Millinder's band from 1934 to 1937, when he returned to Luis Russell for three more years at a time when this orchestra was often fronted by Louis Armstrong. Allen continued making many recordings under his own name, as well as recording with Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton as well as accompanying vocalists including Victoria Spivey and Billie Holiday. After a short stint with Benny Goodman, Allen started leading his own band at The Famous Door in Manhattan. He then toured with his band around the USA into the late 1950s. Allen's versatility is shown by his winning of Down Beat awards in both the traditional jazz and the modern jazz categories. In 1959 he joined Kid Ory's band, with whom Allen made his first tour of Europe. Henry Red Allen made a celebrated appearance on the legendary "Sound of Jazz" television show on which he nearly stole the show; the program, filmed "live" in December 1957 is still considered the greatest jazz television program ever recorded. Only Billie Holiday's singing matched his performance on that historical program.
Allen then returned to working under his own name making more tours of the USA and Europe until his death on 17th April 1967 in New York City.
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