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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Drummer Carl Allen: The Benefit of Being a Blessed Man


In August of 2021, Carl Allen became the new William and Mary Grant Endowed Chair and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

As the work begins on the road and in classrooms of UMKC’s School of Music and Dance, drummer Carl Allen feels more than up to the task. It seems as if his life goes several directions at once; not unlike his hands and feet, as he catapults a band into action from the drumkit, or in the way Carl downshifts into a lower center of gravity as he is propelled through a lively cocktail affair, a business lunch, or a Zoom in discussion of his bright new future.

Carl put it this way: “There is a difference between busy and productive, this is productive. I’m recruiting talent for the program. I’m up at 3am, flying out to conduct a 5-day residency, off to New York for a day, then out for 5 days of performance and recruiting in Cleveland and then Utah for 2 days, and back to New York for Thanksgiving.” (He still has a house there)

The business of jazz is booming for Carl Allen. He is currently gracing JazzWeek charts with 2 incredible recordings. One with pianist Renee Rosnes and another with bassist Christian McBride, with whom Carl has toured and recorded with for more than a decade. The duo is the powerful rhythm section of the 5-piece band known as Inside Straight. They record for Mack Avenue Records and they’re spending the first week of December performing at the Village Vanguard in New York City.

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking, all that and a new full-time position?

“Every time I go away and then come back,” said Carl, “I have more experience that I can then share and explore with the students.” He likes to see the classroom as an extension of the bandstand. His mentors were 2 of the greatest drummers-bandleaders in jazz, Mel Lewis, and Art Blakey.

“When Art told you something,” said Carl, “you didn’t ask what he meant, your job was to figure it out.” Speaking on about Blakey, telling Carl during a performance, that his bass drum wasn’t breathing. Carl recalls, “His approach to the instrument was all about orchestration. Every component of the drumset—had an effect—on how you orchestrate and set-up the band.”

The youngest of 5 children from Milwaukee, 4 of Carl’s 5 siblings played music. His oldest brother played drums for a while, then left the drumsticks around the house. After his brother had lost interest in the drums, with no father around, Carl mimicked his oldest brother. He put the sticks to good use.

Carl began playing drums at church when he was 10 or 11 years old. His mother sang in the church choir. “This is where I learned to listen,” he said, “I Listened to the organist and the choir director.”

He was allowed to start his own small jazz band in junior high, his high school band won state music awards. The prizes always included a trip to the University of Wisconsin.

After high school Carl received a scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin. This is where Carl met drummer Mel Lewis. After 2 years of college, Carl transferred to New Jersey’s William Paterson University at the urging of Mel Lewis. Hello, New York City.

The Benefit of being a blessed man.

Carl says relationships and resources are cyclical. “If I’m just in Kansas City and don’t do anything else, it’s like I’m on an island, if I make it a point to stay connected, I can call up Christian, or Renee, or David Sanborn and get then to do a Master Class for the students.”

This is that part about bringing the bandstand into the classroom.

With 30 + years of clinics and workshops around the country, and several years on the faculty of Juilliard, becoming the prestigious institution’s Artistic Director of Jazz Studies in 2007, drummer Carl Allen is all in at UMKC. He’s recruiting for 2022 and beyond.


Listen to the full interview at

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