Gene Allen is a name that tends to appear on liner note credits whenever a high class jazz artist puts together a big-band project. He was a superb technician on two extremely difficult instruments, the clarinet and bass clarinet, and also frequently recorded on baritone sax as well. His most famous recordings are under the direction of fellow baritone player, composer, and bandleader Gerry Mulligan, and in the haphazard, under-prepared but still highly enjoyable big-band sessions and concerts of piano mastermind Thelonious Monk. Allen was also part of the crew that worked in the Sauter-Finegan combo, a '50s jazz group whose unusual music were rediscovered by the '90s exotica crowd.
That's a development that brings Allen, born Eugene Sufana, back full-circle to his musical beginnings. His first professional job of any account was with the sometimes cheesy Latin-flavored band -- perhaps "musica con queso" is a better description -- of Louis Prima, with whom Allen played between 1944 and 1947. In the late '40s, he worked with both Gene Williams and the fine bandleader and pianist Claude Thornhill, and in the early '50s played in the group of Tex Beneke -- in all cases meaning he was bearing down on some classic jazz, minus bongos. He first hooked up with Sauter-Finegan in 1953, and through the mid-'50s was featured on three of this group's albums, including the boisterous Hey Lulu, the rambling Finegan's Wake, and the satisfactory Allright Already. All are good examples of Allen's ability to maneuver around in complicated arrangements.
In the second half of the '50s, Allen found a home in several outfits from the swing days that were still holding their own against the onslaught of rock & roll. He worked with Tommy Dorsey for several years beginning in 1956, and did some high-profile gigs with Benny Goodman, including a notorious Brussels World Fair show during which the leader sabotaged the light on Allen's music stand in order to try and make him seem incompetent. In the early '60s, he worked with the Nat Pierce band at venues such as Birdland, and continued to be based out of New York City, a good place to be when Mulligan and Monk were each presented with opportunities to organize large groups. These projects not only involved recording sessions but European tours as well. Allen also took part in composer George Russell's ambitious New York, New York suite and was a member of some of Woody Herman's '60s bands. From the end of that decade and onward he apparently cut back his recording activities drastically. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi