July 17, 2008

Musician With Macon Roots to Appear on ‘Today Show’

By Phillip Ramati, The Macon Telegraph, Ga.

Jul. 17--Jon Allen always has been a couple of decades late when it comes to his love of music.

When he was growing up and a middle-school student at Stratford Academy in Macon, his musical tastes leaned more toward acts such as the Beach Boys rather than the grunge movement of the early 1990s.

Now, about to turn 28, Allen finds himself immersed in the music of yet another bygone era. Playing keyboards as part of jazz singer Steve Tyrell's band, the group will be performing the songs of Burt Bacharach this morning on "The Today Show." Tyrell's album, "Back to Bacharach," debuted a couple of weeks ago.

"One thing I've always wanted to do was work in a lot of different styles," Allen said. "When I was living in Macon, I was always listening to older stuff, like the Beach Boys. Even living here in L.A., where there's this pop scene, I've never really been interested in that."

Allen's father, Tom, who received his degree in music at Mercer University, said his son's interest in older music was evident early on. Along with his older brother Jeff and younger brother Jamie, the Allen boys performed a lot of Beach Boys' hits in public venues under the band name Sibling Rivalry. They even opened for the actual Beach Boys during their visit to Lakewood Ampitheatre in the early '90s.

Tom Allen is looking at the "Today" performance as a chance for people who lost touch with the family to get to see Jon perform live.

"(Tyrell) has never performed in Macon, so it will give people a chance to see them who haven't had a chance to," he said.

Jon Allen studied piano with noted local pianist Susan McDuffie. In addition to music, Allen was very active in local theater, performing on stage in productions at Macon Little Theatre and Theatre Macon. Later, he played piano for some of the productions at Theatre Macon before the family moved to Florida when he was 15.

Jon attended college at UCLA with an eye toward scoring movies.

"I wanted to go where the music industry was, and that was either New York or L.A., and I chose L.A.," he said.

While in school, he performed with the UCLA jazz band. One day, he answered an online ad to be an intern for Tyrell. Just as Allen was nearing graduation, Tyrell's piano player left and the group's electronic keyboardist moved over to fill that slot. Allen's father encouraged him to go after the keyboardist job.

"He was there a whole year before he even let Steve know he played piano," Tom Allen said. "He went to that straight after graduation."

Working with Tyrell, who is also a producer as well as a musician, led to other opportunities for Allen. In addition to playing and writing music with Tyrell, Allen has also gotten to produce and work as a sound engineer in the studio, as well as working on the business end outside of the studio.

Thanks to his connection with Tyrell, Allen got to work on Rod Stewart's Grammy-winning "Stardust: Great American Songbook 3," with the likes of Stewart, Dolly Parton and Stevie Wonder. Allen has both a Grammy certificate and a platinum album from that experience.

Allen said he still enjoys performing the music first and foremost. Just two weeks ago, he and Tyrell performed on "The Tonight Show."

Today's performance won't mark the first time Allen has been on "The Today Show." He performed with Tyrell on one of the last episodes that Katie Couric hosted.

Allen still has a lot of family, including his grandparents, in Middle Georgia.

"I still think of Macon as my hometown," he said. "There are so many great musical acts from Macon, and that influenced me."

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.



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