Duke Ellington said, “There are only two types of music: good music and the other kind.” Bruce V. Allen is the epitome of good music. The jazz pianist, who is a man of faith who seamlessly infuses gospel and jazz, has been creating music for years and has contributed significantly to the world of music.
As the co-leader and keyboardist of the chart-topping duo Allen & Allen, along with saxophonist Allen T.D. Wiggins helped establish the multi-award group to national presence.
When you look at Bruce’s past and the foundation that was laid, it is obvious that he would be a musician with exceptional talent. He graduated from Lincoln Senior High School (Miles Davis’ alma mater) in East St. Louis, Illinois, which has a notable history of producing talented musicians such as renowned jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Wynton Marsalis, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, avant-garde jazz saxophonist, composer and poet Oliver Lake to name a few.
He also received a Bachelor’s degree from Bethune-Cookman University—renowned jazz pianist Robert “Bob” Baldwin, R&B singer and songwriter Rahsaan Patterson, and En Vogue R&B group member Terry Ellis are just a few examples of the talented musicians who have graduated from the University.
After an Allen & Allen hiatus, he stepped out on faith and released his first solo project, “Just B. Allen This Time.”
Another hiatus would happen, but this time, it was not planned. Bruce suffered a stroke that weakened his right side and affected his brain, which he said took away his ability to play fluidly caused by a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the brain.
When musicians have a stroke, it can have significant effects on their ability to perform and engage in musical activities. The specific impact of a stroke will depend on various factors, including the location and severity of the stroke, as well as the individual’s overall health and resilience.
Bruce said after the stroke, he had more downtime than he would have liked. It caught him by surprise. “I was getting ready to go to the church for a mid-week bible study I teach. Before I left, I spoke to my wife, and I noticed my speech was a little weird, but I thought nothing of it.” By the time he arrived at the church, he could not speak. Thinking he needed to get his blood pressure checked, he went to the fire station down the street. His blood pressure was fine but he could not get his thoughts together.
A visit to his primary doctor, who took his vitals and suggested he go home, was met with Bruce’s wife Renita, who was adamant that the doctor dig deeper. Bruce went through a series of tests and scans, and by this time, the three-hour window had passed. His testing went on for a while, and the doctors diagnosed him.
With a stroke, the phrase “three-hour window” refers to the time window during which a specific treatment can be done to help dissolve blood clots that are causing an Ischemic stroke caused by a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the brain.
Having a stroke is extremely hard on a musician because they use their voice, hands, feet, fingers, and more to play instruments.
Some potential ways in which a stroke can affect musicians
1. Motor Skills: Strokes can cause weakness, paralysis, or loss of coordination in different parts of the body. This can affect musicians’ instrument playing and vocal control.
2. Speech and Language: Musicians who rely on singing or songwriting may experience difficulties with vocal control, articulation, or finding the right words.
3. Cognitive Function: Musicians may experience challenges in remembering lyrics, melodies, or chord progressions.
4. Emotional and Psychological Impact: Musicians may experience frustration, depression, anxiety, or a loss of confidence in their musical abilities.
Like Allen, there are many notable jazz pianists who have had strokes and successfully continued their careers. Their style would change somewhat, but ironically, for the better.
His adversity and not being able to play sent Bruce into a depressed state. “I would get in bed in a fetal position and cry and ask the Lord “what did I do so bad that you would take my gift away from me?” He sat still and waited to hear from the Lord for about the first year.
When he finally heard from Him, who said, “Bruce, if you trust me, I can do more with what you have left than what you had before,” he said he was excited but also perplexed because he wasn’t able to play a full song so he could not understand how this was going to happen. But those were thoughts of the flesh, not of the spirit.
After the profound revelation, all systems were a go, and the comeback inside of him began. But one has to remember that stroke recovery is individualized, and recovery varies from person to person. However, with vigorous physical and speech therapy and hard work, Bruce found his way “back to the keys.”
From that moment, he promised to play with purpose, which led to his new single entitled “Come Back.” The first song from his forthcoming EP, which he describes as a combination of melodies and chord progressions mixed with tantalizing vocals to soothe the ear and relax the heart.
It was as if Allen never missed a beat. His signature sound and his personality echo even more through his music—smooth, laid-back, and inspiring.
In a recent interview, Allen said, “When life and the things we take for granted slip away, you learn to give God the glory every day.” As a Senior Pastor, this is something he does regardless of the circumstances, but this time, it hit differently. However, he knew that with patience, persistence, and faith, he would be restored.
Like Allen, there are many notable jazz pianists who have had strokes and successfully continued their careers. Their style would change somewhat, ironically for the better, enhancing their sound with a distinctive twist.
1. Cedar Walton was a regarded jazz pianist and composer. He suffered a stroke in 2010, which affected his left hand. Despite facing physical challenges, Walton modified his technique and kept playing and recording. He remained an influential figure in the jazz community until his passing in 2013.
2. Hank Jones was a celebrated jazz pianist who had a stroke in 2009. Even though his left hand was affected by the stroke, he continued to perform and record using his right hand, modifying his playing style.
3. Mulgrew Miller was a jazz pianist known for his technique and expressive playing. He experienced a crippling stroke in 2013, which initially caused partial paralysis. However, through intense rehabilitation and determination, Miller regained his abilities and returned to performing, although his playing style changed somewhat.
4. Horace Parlan was a jazz pianist known for his unique playing style, characterized by his limited use of his right hand because of the effects of childhood polio. In 1995, he experienced a stroke, which worsened his mobility and dexterity. Despite these challenges, he adapted his playing technique and continued to perform and record.
Through it all, Bruce V. Allen says, “I am grateful and know where God has brought me from. His message for anyone who has suffered a sickness and wants to be restored— “Trust God and do the things you have to do to line up with what you want God to do.
“Come Back” is sold on all digital platforms. To learn more about Bruce V. Allen, please visit his website.