I began my guitar lessons with George Allen when I was a teenager in high school. I sincerely believe that God directed me to him. Back then, there was very little in the way of instructional manuals for the advanced guitar student. George had all of his students play etudes and duets that were in published folios and manuals for the clarinet and violin. Fortunately, for all of us, the written range of the clarinet is almost identical to that of the guitar – and it matters not that the B-flat clarinet sounds a whole-tone lower when playing the music.
The clarinet and violin manuals featured pieces in 4/4 time, cut time (2/2), 3/4 time, 6/8, and 12/8 time. We also used folios of syncopated music, Swing music and “odd time” music. George would have me play from such music as he conducted with a baton that he kept on hand. He would stop me, at times, to illustrate how different conductors might conduct a particular measure differently. He also had a lot of information as to how “show business” conductors preferred to conduct. This knowledge came in very handy on jobs where no time or money was allotted for rehearsal.
George had me sight-transpose just about everything I played for him, and then we would discuss how it should look when written out on music manuscript paper. In between all of that, he would test my memory of the melodies and chords to what were called, “Old Standard” tunes, that one found in “fake books.”
George had a fantastic ear. He would listen to Be-bop players, and then write out their non-published tunes. He would teach me to pick, finger and properly articulate those tunes to prepare me for “sitting in” at any “jam sessions” with sax, clarinet, trumpet and piano players. He also wanted to equip me for being able to read and articulate such music at sight.
George was an amazing teacher. Everything he taught was “practical.” He wanted his students to “be ready for anything.” During those years, if one were to find a local guitar player who could sight-read, sight-transpose, arrange, follow a conductor, and improvise, there was more than a 90% chance that the guitar player was one, or had been one, of George’s students. It is through him that I became acquainted with two fabulous, local guitar players by the name of Ron Steele and Jack Cecchini. All three of us still feel a certain sense of pride, privilege and brotherhood in being former students of George Allen.
George invited any guitar player, who was in town playing with a travelling band, to stay at his house as a guest. It was George’s goal to lodge and feed the guitar player for a whole week, or more, so that he could jam with him and learn as much as he could from him. It mattered not that the guitar player might be half of his age; George was never ashamed to admit that some young player knew something that he did not.
All of my music teachers were blessed with exceptional wives. Whenever I would phone George, and Sally would answer the phone, her conversation always indicated that she and her husband often discussed me and my progress. Those conversations are some of my fondest memories.
Many meals were kept warm by Sally Allen, Karmen Geraci and Evelyn Pick as my music lessons with their husbands (more often than not) extended far beyond the half-hour for which I paid. These three women were – in their own special way – as dedicated to teaching and molding students as their husbands were.