David Allen was a kid at Havenscourt Middle School in East Oakland when his art teacher spotted the architect in him. With his teacher’s encouragement he applied to a dedicated high school architecture program at Skyline High. When the superintendent asked him why she should approve his application, he answered, “I don’t want to miss any opportunities.” She signed without hesitation. He went on to earn a state prize for his work there.
Fast forward. David Allen is at The Flightdeck, a performance space in downtown Oakland, speaking to a crowd about the Museum of Jazz and Art he aims to build in his hometown. With a vision of raising “awareness, importance and the preservation” of jazz, the museum will also be a space to nurture and spot the next generation of homegrown creative talent.
Allen is the featured speaker at CreativeMornings Oakland, a free monthly talk where people gather over coffee and breakfast treats to hear talks on creativity. CreativeMornings take place in 117 cities around the world, and each CreativeMornings city presents on a common theme every month. This month’s theme is Revolution, and Allen urges the audience to incite change through storytelling followed by action.
Friday morning is the right time for a creativity meal. After a week of chasing down the thing you chase every week, it’s time for a headcheck and an infusion of the juice you live for – imagination. In telling the story and imagined future of this museum, Allen grounds inspiration in limitations. “It’s constraint that drives creativity and action.” In the history of jazz music, constraints advanced the shape of the music and how it spread. The museum aims to tell the story of those limitations as both the backdrop of the music, but also the necessary condition for his particular trajectory. Understanding the dual role of constraint is important in the story of jazz. An earlier speaker in the lineup, Jihan McDonald of Black Magic Arts Collective, cited the adage, “tell your own story, or someone else will tell it for you. And, they’ll probably tell it wrong.”
Beyond storytelling, Allen emphasizes the role of action in the creative field. Action takes the story into the world and changes it for the better. Go beyond the thinking and the talking. Members of the audience were asked to describe their own intended revolution, how they might incite change in Oakland.
The house that jazz built stands on the foundations of harmony, of dissonance and consonance. Allen’s presentation took the audience from the roots of jazz (as the museum would) to bee bop to hip hop. Allen credits his niece with opening his ears and his mind to hip hop, and he shared a dose through a viewing of Rebirth of Slick (Cool like Dat) by Digable Planets. He ties these musical terms to architecture, and shared slides of his designs for the museum in tune with these concepts. See the renderings here. Allen and his allies continue to advocate for the museum, raising awareness and funds. (Photo of musician Marcus Shelby)