Fletcher Allen

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While Fletcher Allen is a name most known as a health care provider, there is also a jazz saxophonist and arranger with this name who really seemed to get around; his career including lengthy performing…
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While Fletcher Allen is a name most known as a health care provider, there is also a jazz saxophonist and arranger with this name who really seemed to get around; his career including lengthy performing stints in India and Egypt as well as the extended European sojourns that are "de rigeur," "naturalisch," or "bellisimo" for the jazzman who inevitably find the American scene to be a bit taxing. Or perhaps "non-taxing" would be a better description, as in very little income to tax. At one point when Allen returned to the United States from his travels and acclaimed performing ventures, he wound up working on the docks in New York City because there were no gigs.

He began his career in the mid-'20s as a member of Lloyd Scott's Band in New York City. In 1927, he was off to Europe for the first time in a group under the direction of Leon Abbey, a bandleader whose pioneering efforts with jazz eventually led to a 1936 tour of India which Allen also participated in. In between, he went to Budapest with the Benny Peyton group in 1929 and hung out in Europe the following decade, activity including several fine collaborations with guitarist Django Reinhardt. This virtuoso French player recorded some of Allen's arrangements and compositions, including the intoxicating "Viper's Dream." He also took advantage of the European base to take part in several tours involving top American performers, working with Louis Armstrong in the '30s on an itinerary that included England. He played with Freddy Taylor in Paris in the mid-'30s, was off to the land of curry with Abbey, and began leading his own band.

In 1938, he began performing with Benny Carter, something of a doppelgänger in that both men played alto saxophone and clarinet and had excellent reputations as arrangers. He shows up several times in the extensive Carter discography such as on the

pompously titled Masterpieces, Vol. 17 on the EPM Musique label. Later that year, Allen journeyed to Egypt as a member of the Harlem Rhythmakers group during an era when American jazz musicians held forth at swank Cairo hotels, a situation that would be quite inconceivable in modern times. He stayed there for two years, but like all of his peers ran for cover when the Second World War began filling a larger spot on the horizon then the pyramids of Giza. Allen at first found little work upon returning home, but eventually left the docks when he found that his new skills on baritone sax meant work filling in the sections of various New York big bands. Allen's last job of any notoriety began in the early 70s with the big band of Fred "Taxi" Mitchell, meaning he was one New Yorker who managed to find a taxi.