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marshall allen

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A longtime member of The Sun Ra Arkestra, alto saxophonist Marshall Allen later assumed leadership of the group following the departures of Sun Ra and his immediate successor, John Gilmore. He was also a regular collaborator of Babatunde Olatunji, in the process emerging as one of the first jazz musicians to fuse the avant-garde with traditional African music.

Allen was born May 25, 1924, in Louisville, KY, beginning clarinet lessons at the age of ten. After enlisting with the U.S. Army’s renowned Buffalo Soldiers in 1942, he played clarinet and alto saxophone with the 17th Division Special Service Band, subsequently forming a trio with pianist Art Simmons and guitarist Don Byas while stationed in Paris. After spending the late ’40s touring and recording behind James Moody, Allen studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music before returning stateside in 1951, settling in Chicago and forming his own dance band. He also began writing his first original compositions.

Circa 1956, Allen met Sun Ra, joining the pianist’s legendary Arkestra two years later. He would go on to lead its reed section for more than four decades, over time earning renown as one of the most distinctive and original saxophonists of the postwar era. In tandem with tenorist John Gilmore and baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick, Allen played on more than 200 Sun Ra recordings.

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