Tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen was born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 11, 1972. He is a member of the third wave of Young Lion mainstream jazz players. As a young man, he was influenced by the great musicians in Detroit, but upon his arrival in New York City, his real apprenticeship began. He worked with such notables as George Cables, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Frank Foster's Loud Minority Big Band, Butch Morris, David Murray, and Wallace Roney. His contemporary collaborators include Winard Harper, Orrin Evans, Gerald Cleaver, Eric Revis, Marcus Gilmore, Russell Gunn, Meshell Ndegéocello, Dave Douglas, Duane Eubanks, Jeremy Pelt, Fabio Morgera, Elisabeth Kontomanou, Lucian Ban, and the Red Records All-Stars.
Allen's debut recording for the Criss Cross label, In Search Of..., won him an award for Best New Artist in Italy in 1999, and had reviewers praising him for his original compositions and bold playing. That same year he began touring and recording with drummer Cindy Blackman's ensemble. His second Criss Cross date, Pharoah's Children, was a Jazziz magazine critics pick as a Top Ten Album of the Year in 2002.
Allen subsequently signed to the Sunnyside label, where he released three critically albums -- 2008's I Am I Am, 2009's Shine!, and 2011's Victory! -- before moving on to Savant Records. His debut for the label, 2012's The Matador and the Bull and its follow-up, Grace, a year later, earned him two consecutive Downbeat Critics poll awards for Tenor Saxophonist and Composer.
Allen expanded his trio to a quartet for 2014's Bloom, where the artist drew from three primary inspirations: 20th century classical music, the Great American Songbook, and post-bop jazz improvisation. He wrote seven of the set's ten tunes. For 2015's Graffiti, he introduced a new trio with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston; the album was included on several year-end critics' lists. That group returned for the following year's Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues. While the album featured mostly originals, it did include the Delta standard "Another Man Done Gone," by Vera Hall and "If You're Lonesome, Then You're Not Alone," by contemporary saxophonist Bill McHenry. Allen claimed it was his most personal album to date.