Born and raised in Elmhurst, IL, Mike started playing guitar at the age of 8. When he was 12, His guitar teacher at Perry’s Music in Villa Park, IL introduced the music of George Benson to him and the passion for jazz guitar was born. In high school he performed all four years in the York High School Jazz Band, directed by Kurt Merrill, which inspired him to music 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 of the famed Green Mill. Soon after, Charles Earland asked Mike to join his Chicago quartet with drummer Greg Rockingham and saxophonist Frank Catalano. During his two-year tenure with Earland, Mike performed on Earland’s 1997 release The Jazz Organ Summit with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Johnny “Hammond” Smith as well as “organ battles” with Earland and Dr. Lonnie at the Green Mill. Mike had also 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. In 1997, 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 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 featured special guests Eric Alexander, Julian Priester, and Steve Coleman. He travelled again to Poznan in 2011 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, an exploration of Von Freeman’s musical and historical legacy with some of Chicago’s finest improvisers including alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, and cellist Tomeka Reid. Allemana joined forces with guitarist George Freeman (b. 1927) in 2013 to form the George Freeman/Mike Allemana Organ Quartet which performs 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. In 2021, Mike will be part of vocalist Alyssa Allgood’s lastest album and will release Vonology on Ears&Eyes Records.
Mike is also an active researcher. After earning a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Northwestern University in 2013, Mike was awarded a Graduate Doctoral Fellowship in Ethnomusicology from the Department of Music at the University of Chicago where he developed research on historical, spatial, and social contexts of the South Side of Chicago jazz scene which have yet to be documented. In 2019, he was awarded the Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and earned his Ph.D. in June of 2020. 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 on the local jazz scene, with particular focus on the late saxophonist Von Freeman’s South Side jam sessions at the New Apartment Lounge. For the 2020-2021 academic year, Mike will be a Humanities Teaching Fellow in the Music Department at the University of Chicago.
photo by Thomas Mohr