This skilled trumpeter gives the impression of a musician trying to elude discographers, beginning with a too-ordinary surname followed by a series of variations in liner note credits. There is Eddie Allen, there is E.J. Allen, and there are also the evil twins whose name should explain it all, but doesn't: Eddie E.J. Allen and E.J. "Eddie" Allen. It is all the same fellow, a trumpet player from Milwaukee who has developed a superb style out of his exposure to the area's concurrent streams of rhythm & blues and avant-garde jazz. A Milwaukee, WI, junior high school band was where he received his initial training in music theory and ensemble experience, and it must have been quite a jump, if not a long drive, from there to the experiments of players associated with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. His work around the Windy City and Milwaukee area was a mixture of rhythm & blues, rock, and the jazz variety show, as in a multitude of genres. He headed for the Big Apple and potentially a larger amount of jazz work in 1981.
A mid-'80s gig with ace drummer Charlie Persip's Superband put him on the mainstream map, but some of his success settling into the New York scene was due to hometown connections. Pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, founder of the aforementioned Chicago AACM, was now living in a Manhattan mini-skyscraper, and the two began working together. Collaborations with important players from the AACM continued. Fans of the late trumpet genius Lester Bowie know Allen from several projects, including Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy album. Bowie loved Allen's arrangements of pop standards such as "Smooth Operator." Those who believe a jazz musician should be able to do more than bluff their way through any of the music's styles can see from Allen's list of credits that he is ready to deal: hard bop drummer Art Blakey, classy classic jazz arranger Benny Carter, loft jazz henchman Chico Freeman, bebop brass bohemian Dizzy Gillespie, soul-jazz saxophonist Houston Person, downtown sound percussionist and composer Bobby Previte, Afro-Cuban percussion innovator Mongo Santamaria, and Afro-jazz keyboard king Randy Weston have all brought Allen on-stage. His playing style is sometimes compared to Lee Morgan, the architectural equivalent of the Roman Forum. He has been recording on his own for the Enja label since 1994.