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Mose Allison: Substance and Style

R.J. DeLuke By

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"I've heard some tunes in recent years that were pretty close to that same idea. The idea was you turn on the radio and you want to hear some music and up comes a commercial."

He also says he comes by the humor naturally.

"I think it's genetic. I'm readin' a lot of books about neuroscience and all that and sociobiology. It turns out, it looks like, at the moment, they think just about everything is wired in. It can be changed. Your culture and your upbringing has some effect on how you are, but a lot of it is just wired in to start with."

"In the part of the country I grew up in, and at the time, during the Great Depression and everything, that sort of molded my point of view. In the Mississippi Delta, nobody says anything straight out. Everything is exaggerated or understated and there's a lot of humorous sayings and all that. So I was introduced to all that early."

So there are those that call him part philosopher (he did study it at LSU), but when it comes to assembling the lyrics that eventually make us laugh, don't picture Mose Allison locked up in a room sweating

Lock up you wife and hide your daughter
Let's do things we shouldn't oughta


"I never sit down and write. I just sorta let things form in my brain. I'm always storing away phrases and ideas and things that I think might turn into songs. I'll go for months without doing anything and all of a sudden I'll decide to work on somthin' for some reason. Maybe it's been reintroduced to my mind about somethin' that's happened or somethin' like that.

"It's not systematic, for sure. People ask me, 'Do you go sit down and write all the time?' I've never done that. It always happens just mentally. I don't do anythin' further than that until I get the song pretty much shaped up in my head, then I go to the piano and start messin' with it."

No. Not a bad gig at all. Fifty years and going strong.

"I started workin' in 1950. Lake Charles, Louisiana, was my first 6-night gig. So I'm in my 51st year of playin' mostly nightclubs. I do some concerts," says Mose.

Though he bemoans the shortage of good jazz clubs, "I manage to stay pretty busy, regardless. I work a lot of different types of rooms. They're not all jazz rooms. I can work different things. I've been able to do pretty well. I don't work as many consecutive nights as I used to, but I'm still working over 100 nights a year, so that's good for me.

"It's as much fun as it ever was, you know, once I get there. Gettin' there is a little harder. Traveling these days has a lot of problems and also it wears you out more."

Don't you talk to me about life's problems
or how you wish that things could be.
I don't have trouble livin'
It's dyin' that bothers me


Traveling may wear him out more in his seventh decade, but it was the rule as a youngster when he went from the Mississippi Delta to the west and southwest in little combos. "A friend of mine had a club in Jackson, Mississippi. I went in there with a quartet and stayed there for a while. I figured as long as I can play and make a living, I would do that. If I can't do that, I'll worry about it and try and figure somthin' else out.

"Fortunately, I had a bassist, Taylor LaFargue, who had a car and was willing to go wherever there was a gig. We knew different drummers, so we just drove from town to town. Tried to get a job and worked somewhere as long as it held up. That went on until about '56 when I moved to New York. I finally decided if I was going to make a living, I was gonna have to come to New York.

"The jazz boom was goin' on then so there was a lot happenin' in New York at that time. It was real excitin,'" he recalls. There was the usual slow start, weekend jobs, spotty gigs, until reputation and work grew.

All the while, singing was part of the act.

"My main influences have always been the classic jazz players who sang, like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole and Jack Teagarden. Louis Jordan, I always liked him as well. The thing of playin' and singin' never bothered me," Mose says. "I just thought they went together."

In 1957, his Back Country Suite on Prestige Records hit it big, and just about everything he has recoded since has had critical acclaim and solid core audience. His resume includes working with jazz greats like Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan

So whether it's jazz or blues or both, it's Mose. Unmistakably Mose.

"I read a recent interview with [venerable octogenarian jazz artist] Jay McShann. One of his lines was: 'I always thought blues and jazz went together.' That knocked me out because that's the way I started out. All the classic jazz players all sang and a lot of 'em sang blues," he says.

Mose developed a unique and personal way with a song, whether it's his own or someone else's.

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