This article was corrected on Jan. 8, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
Jazz composer, bassist and recording artist Ben Allison and the Ben Allison Band will make their Strathmore debut at The Mansion on Friday night. The group, featuring Brandon Seabrook, Steve Cardenas and Allison Miller, will also hold a master class Saturday afternoon.
Allison released his latest full-length album, “The Stars Look Very Different Today,” on Dec. 3. The record’s title is a nod to the David Bowie song “Space Oddity,” and the 1969 sci-fi film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s the musician’s first self-produced and self-mixed album.
“There are a lot of film references on the record,” Allison said. “As I’m sitting down to write music, I’m just calling on things that I like …”
A New Haven, Conn., native, Allison grew up in what he called, “the golden age of television.”
“I was watching shows produced in the 1960s and 1970s,” Allison said. “Many great composers were writing music for television. That’s part of what I heard growing up.”
“The Stars Look Very Different Today” features songs with titles such as “Dr. Zaius,” an ode to “Planet of the Apes,” one of Allison’s favorite sci-fi movies, and “D.A.V.E.,” another reference to “2001: Space Odyssey.”
Allison, who has written music for radio, film and television himself, said he draws several parallels between those scores and jazz music.
“I think one of the things that attracts me to music for film is like jazz, it’s non-verbal,” Allison said. “There are no lyrics … I like the feeling of music being abstract … I like creating music with that in mind and I like listening to music in that way. It’s purposefully vague and that just leaves the music really open to letting the mind wander. I want audiences to hear what they hear … That’s probably why film music is such a big influence on me.”
Though technically a jazz musician, Allison draws musical influences from a range of genres including electronic dance music, folk and soul. His musical tastes have been diverse since he was a young boy.
“The first album I ever bought was the ‘Rite of Spring,’” Allison said. “The second record was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumors.’”
Allison’s varied taste has remained in tact over the years as the musician has built a career which includes appearances on more than 50 albums by assorted artists.
The latest incarnation of Allison’s own band began one and a half years ago. Seabrook, Cardenas and Miller are all band leaders for their own ensembles, something Allison credits for the Ben Allison Band’s success.
“Because they are all seeing things through the eyes of a band leader, they have great perspective,” Allison said. “They think compositionally … which really gives the band a unique sound; a sound that’s more than the sum of its parts … I feel very fortunate to have such high-level individuals in my group.”
As is the nature of the jazz world, Allison and his band mates play with several different ensembles. And even when they’re playing as the Ben Allison Band, improvisation plays a major role in their performances.
“We’ve been playing together long enough that I can often start a tune and everyone will know what I’m doing,” Allison said. “It’s not always well-planned in advance.”
In addition to recording and performing, Allison is deeply involved in music advocacy, working toward artist empowerment and musician’s rights.
“It began early in my career when I was the co-founder and artistic director of The Jazz Composers Collective,” Allison said.
The Jazz Composers Collective was a nonprofit, musician-run organization based out of New York City and dedicated to creating an environment where musicians could freely create and develop new music.
“There was very much of a very community-oriented feel to that group,” Allison said.
When the collective dissolved in 2005, Allison said it left “a hole.”
“I was used to the idea of expressing some of my political beliefs through an arts organization,” he said. “Fostering art, building community, building audiences for new music — those sorts of things.”
Allison has found a new outlet with a position as chair of the Advocacy Committee of the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
“I get the chance to put a voice to the concerns of artists,” Allison said. “[It’s something] that I enjoy doing and appreciate the chance to do.”
In the original story,“The Stars Look Very Different Today” was misidentified as a David Bowie song, The Jazz Composers Collective was misidentified as the Jazz Composition Collective, and “D.A.V.E.” and “Rite of Spring” were misspelled.