Allen, born in Detroit, has a background that matches her reputation. She graduated from Detroit's famed Cass Tech, a school with successful graduates in all fields. For jazz, however, it's Detroit's answer to Pittsburgh's famed Westinghouse High. Cass Tech produced many others: Gerald Wilson, Wardell Gray, Paul Chambers (Pittsburgh-born), Regina Carter, Alice Coltrane, Frank Rosolino, Howard McGhee, Al McKibbon, Billy Mitchell, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Ron Carter and quite a few others.
Allen recorded her first solo album in 1984 when she was 27. She's worked with many other jazz luminaries: Paul Motian, Jimmy Cobb, Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Kenny Garrett, Pittsburgher Jeff 'Tain' Watts, Marcus Belgrave, Wallace Roney, Jack DeJohnette and with Ezperanza Spalding and Teri Lyne Carrington. She's quick to celebrate her Detroit roots, including the jazz treatments of Motown classics on her latest album Grand River Crossings: Motown and Motor City Inspirations.
Three samples of Allen in action. First, in teaching mode at Michigan State:
With ACS (Allen, Spalding and Carrington):
Her version of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" from Grand River Crossings: