Guitarist, composer, and ethnomusicologist Dr. Michael Allemana has been a fixture on the Chicago jazz scene since the early 1990s. Over his career he has shared the stage with such jazz luminaries as Charles Earland, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jimmy Cobb, and Steve Coleman. From 1997–2012 he was a member of saxophone legend Von Freeman’s quartet at the famed New Apartment Lounge. Then in 2013, he established a quartet in partnership with Freeman’s brother, guitar legend George Freeman, that features drum master Bernard Purdie and organist Pete Benson. They released their first album, Live at the Green Mill on ears&eyes Records, in 2017. Allemana has also led several projects, including the Mike Allemana Organ Trio, the Mike Allemana Quartet, and Come Sunday (a gospel and jazz vocal ensemble). Allemana’s latest release, Vonology (2022), also on ears&eyes Records, is a five-movement original work that draws from his research of Von Freeman’s life and music. This project has received much acclaim in the jazz press and was featured at the 2022 Chicago Jazz Festival. His most recent work includes string quartet, vocal, and horn arrangements for vocalist Paul Marinaro’s 2022 release Not Quite Yet; a quintet in collaboration with saxophonist Chico Freeman, which in 2022 was named “Most Valuable Band” by the Chicago Tribune; and The Regulators, a trio with bassist Matt Ferguson and drummer Gerald Dowd that will release their debut album in 2024.
Being a passionate advocate for Chicago’s music communities, Allemana also conducts historical and ethnographic research of the local jazz scene. In 2020, he earned a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago with a dissertation that explores the historical and contemporary ways that Chicago’s changing racial boundaries have shaped music making and social life on the local jazz scene, with particular focus on Von Freeman’s New Apartment Lounge jam session. This research was produced in part while Allemana was a dissertation fellow at the University of Chicago’s Center of the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. His current research investigates the forgotten contributions of Dr. Mildred Bryant-Jones to South Side music education from 1920 to 1945. He has presented his research at several conferences such as the Society of Ethnomusicology (2015, 2021), the Society of American Music (2018), the American Musicological Society (2021), Northern Illinois University (2016), and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival (2022).
Allemana’s advocacy also includes being a committed educator who encourages his students to examine music as both musical structure and social processes as well as to learn about the history of the Chicago jazz scene while experiencing its rich and creative contemporary present. He is an in-demand educator who has been invited to teach courses and run masterclasses at University of Chicago, DePaul University, Northern Illinois University, the Brubeck Institute, and Colombia College.