Born and raised in Elmhurst, IL, Mike started guitar when he was 8 years old, becoming interested in jazz at age 12 after his guitar teacher at Perry’s Music in Villa Park, IL introduced the music of George Benson to him. In high school he performed all four years in the York High School Jazz Band, directed by Kurt Merrill, which inspired him to pursue jazz guitar as a career. He enrolled at Northern Illinois University, where he studied with Bobby Roberts and Fareed Haque. After earning a B.M. in Jazz Performance in 1991, Mike spent two years in Cincinnati, spending many nights hanging with and learning from local guitar greats Cal Collins and Kenny Poole. In 1994 he returned to Chicago and quickly became part of the city’s growing jazz scene.
Mike’s first steady gig came in 1995 with local tenor sax legend, Lin Halliday, performing Thursdays at the Deja Vu, the first club owned by Dave Jemilo, owner the famed Green Mill. Soon after in 1996, Charles Earland asked Mike to join his Chicago quartet with drummer Greg Rockingham and saxophonist Frank Catalano. During his two-year tenure with Earland, he performed at Earland’s “Jazz Organ Summit” at the DuSable Museum in 1997, where Mike performed with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Johnny “Hammond” Smith; and two “organ battles” with Earland and Dr. Lonnie. During this time, Mike had been an avid follower of Von Freeman since 1990, sitting in at Freeman’s famous Tuesday night jam session at the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s South Side. Then in 1997 came one of Mike’s most significant opportunities when Von Freeman asked Mike to join his group at the New Apartment Lounge, a tenure that lasted until Freeman’s passing in 2012. While with Freeman, Mike toured to Berlin in 2002, which was released as Vonski Speaks on Nessa Records in 2009, and recorded on Von Freeman’s 2002 release The Improvisor on Premonition Records.
Other career highlights include performances with Dr. Lonnie Smith in 1998 and 1999, a four-year residency at Andy’s Jazz Club with tenor saxophonist Ron Dewar from 1998-2002, a 2005 performance at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center with Von Freeman and drumming legend Mickey Roker, a 2006 performance with Von Freeman and master drummer Jimmy Cobb, and performances with alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. In 2010, Mike toured to Poznan, Poland to perform with fellow Chicago guitarists Bobby Broom and Jeff Parker for the Made in Chicago Festival. The Jazz Institute of Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Cultural Center commissioned him in 2011 to arrange Von Freeman’s original compositions for a 10-piece ensemble for the Made in Chicago concert series at Millennium Park which included special guests Eric Alexander, Julian Priester, and Steve Coleman. Later that same year, he travelled again to Poznan to perform an original 4-part suite dedicated to Von Freeman written for jazz octet, commissioned by the Made in Chicago Festival. This piece was revised and expanded for a commission from the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2018, which Mike entitled Vonology, a musical exploration of Von Freeman’s musical and historical legacy and which featured some fo Chicago’s greatest improvisers including alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, and cellist Tomeka Reid. In 2013, Allemana joined forces with guitar legend George Freeman (b. 1927), Von Freeman’s brother, to form the George Freeman/Mike Allemana Organ Quartet, a group which performs solely George Freeman’s compositions. Since 2014, the group has performed every April with drumming legend Bernard Purdie. This band was captured live in 2015 for the 2017 release Live at the Green Mill on Ears&Eyes Records. Mike can be heard eery Tuesday through 2019 at Andy’s Jazz Club with After Dark, which takes its name from the title of Von Freeman composition. After Dark is a jazz sextet that explores the most influential music from Von Freeman’s early development, including the music of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Sun Ra, and Charlie Parker. The ensemble is comprised of some Chicago’s most accomplished improvisers, including saxophonists Geof Bradfield, Scott Burns, and Rajiv Halim, bassist Clark Sommers, and Chicago drumming master Dana Hall.
After completing a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Northwestern University under the direction of saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines in 2013, Mike was awarded a Graduate Fellowship from Department of Music at the University of Chicago in Ethnomusicology where he is currently a doctoral candidate. His research focuses on the intersections of race, geography, and music among jazz musicians and audiences in Chicago. His dissertation “‘Will You Still Be Mine?’: Memory, Place, Race and Jazz on Chicago’s South Side” examines how the racialized geography of Chicago’s South and North Sides has shaped and continues to shape lived musical experience. With data gathered from participant observation, interviews, archival work, and musical analysis, his research investigates how past musical and social experiences inform the present; the role places play in focusing memories of those profound experiences; how South Side jazz clubs afforded the generation of social and musical networks among jazz musicians and audiences from a variety of subject positions, with particular focus on the late saxophonist Von Freeman’s South Side jam sessions at the New Apartment Lounge; and to what degree processes of racialization mediate past and present social and musical relationships. His research aims to reformulate South Side cultural history and to address critical gaps in the documentation of South Side cultural, social, and spatial histories by looking at the lives of practitioners who have defined the Chicago scene since the 1940s in the everyday work of jazz performance. Mike will complete his dissertation in 2020 as a Dissertation Fellow under the generous support of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.
photo by Thomas Mohr