The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

    Music talent encoded in bass player’s family lineage


    We’ve all heard the saying: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Some have cereal, while others have eggs and bacon. We can’t forget coffee and tea. Many take multivitamins. For Ellwood Allen Jr., however, he’ll take a whooping heap of jazz to get through the morning.

    Following in the footsteps of his hero — five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Victor Wooten — Allen is carving out a musical path of his own. His struggles and pursuit of becoming a better bassist is not only making him a skilled musician in the campus music department’s Commercial Music Ensemble, it is also teaching him the blueprints for becoming a better human being.

    “That cat can straight up play, man,” says fellow City College Commercial Music Ensemble pianist and student Jeffery Archie.

    Like a nasty bass line pounding away in his mind that won’t let up, Allen, 22, remembers a moment that influenced him as a young bassist when he attended a bass clinic held by Wooten. There, Wooten asked everyone in attendance what music was to them.

    “Everyone began shouting out their own answers,” says Allen. “Mine was ‘life.’ In life, there’s a time for rest, a time to be busy, a time to relax and be quiet. There’s also a time when you don’t say anything at all. How we deliver statements is also important. Even if what you say is correct, no one will listen to you if you go at it from a place that isn’t really genuine.”

    Playing the bass goes beyond just being a great musician or virtuoso. Allen wants to provoke and facilitate social change, focusing mainly on giving back to the African-American community.

    Tradition runs deep in the young musician. Wearing a bright white West African dashiki, with blue floral prints running down the middle of his shirt, replacing what would normally contain buttons. He looks down with a smile, as slick as his freshly faded haircut.   

    “Music is a powerful tool,” says the musician. “From earnings I make from music, I want to put it back into my people, black people. I’ve got to look out for my people first, because no one else will look out for us.”

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    Allen says his father, unfortunately and eventually, lost the motivation to play bass after long, tiring hours laboring as a blue-collar construction worker. Luckily for the Allen family, a young 16-year-old Allen Jr. picked up where his father left off. The music continues to play on.  

    In high school, with only a couple months of playing bass under his belt, he was moved up to intermediate music class because. He doesn’t even need music sheets.

    “It’s pretty amazing how quickly he’s able to pick up songs by ear within seconds of hearing it,” says fellow City College Commercial Music Ensemble guitarist and student Dillon Spencer.

    Knowing his own limitations, however, Allen understands that like life, he needs to expand his own vocabulary and the horizons of where his mind resides. The melting pot theory of what makes America great in the first place plays a huge factor in music also.

    “It’s important to play beyond the genres we listen to,” says Allen. “We don’t want to be stuck. You’ve got to listen to stuff that’ll make you uncomfortable because it’ll challenge you. That’s what’s going to make you better. Listening to the same thing won’t help you grow.”  

    Beyond all the social lessons Allen plucks from playing music, sometimes the simplest of reasons are just as good, he says.

    “My most memorable concert was when I played at U.C. Davis,” says a bright-eyed, chuckling Allen. “I played bass for these two beautiful Nigerian twins, who were so beautiful, you couldn’t help but smile. After the show, these two other girls, who were just as beautiful, praised me about how I wasn’t just a great musician, but also a magician, due to how I created on the spot with my bass solos and what not. It was good for my ego, yo.”  

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