Mose Allison: Substance and Style

R.J. DeLuke By

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"At this point, I don't listen to other people too much. I'm not really that affected by anyone. I went through the whole number, you know. The swing era, the boogie woogie era, the bebop era. Thelonious Monk is still one of my favorites. So a lot of these people had their effect on me. And Lennie Tristano I like a lot, I still like him. Then I started listenin' a lot to classical composers. Piano works. Just to see what they were doin.' That sort of put me in a different groove to try to blend all that in," Mose explains.

"As far as I'm concerned, the essentials of jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing, and instrumental personality. All of the great jazz players have had instrumental personality. You can recognize them by the way they played. Those were the three things that sort of guided me.

"I can't judge my own stuff. That's for others. But those are the three things that I admire."

And what about the future of jazz? It's the question on people's lips every decade or so. Everyone seems worried about it again of late, with the lack of visionaries like Miles or explorers like 'Trane, and disagreement between traditionalists and those trying to expand the art form.

But Mose is detached and unaffected; he views it much like sitting on a rocking chair on a Mississippi front porch, watching it go by.

"I've never been concerned with that. I've just done my thing," drawls Mose. "I'm pretty much self-centered in that way. I don't try to predict what's gonna happen to jazz or anything like that. Nobody knows what jazz is."

Besides, there are always new adventures around the bend.

What's your movie?
Are you the artist that's misunderstood?
The bad guy tryin' to do good?
Or just the nicest fella in the neighborhood

Allison was summoned to Hollywood last year by director Frank Oz, a Mose fan, for a scene in the upcoming movie "The Score," that stars Robert DeNiro and features Marlon Brando. (Set for a July release, Paramount). He said he had some fun, but is now skeptical that he will make the final cut.

"That remains to be seen. I try to get people not to say anything about that. I've had a lot of flirtations with the movie business and half the times it didn't materialize. Something that was supposed to happen, didn't.

"But the word I got now is that they changed the plot and I don't know if I'm going to be in it or not. Prob'ly not," he said, not really knowing, but not wanting to get his hopes up. "You never know about these things. A lot of people work on it. Sometimes a little plot change will take your part right out. Actors are always complainin' about their best scene being take out."

In the film, DiNiro is a criminal who's trying to go straight and owns a jazz club. Mose played a tune, his own "City Home," in a scene with DiNiro and Brando

"I did the whole tune and it took all day. I did it about 30 times. They shot it from different angles and all that. At the time, they were telling me I'd be able to play the whole tune during the movie. But now [with the change] there's action going on, so I don't know if they'll show me or not. It was hard. It wasn't fun, after about the fifth time.

"I tried to get as much out of it as I could. It was a nightclub situation. They had a set that was just like the kind I play in and they had an audience was just like the kind of people I play for," he says. "I got there about 8 in the morning and I got away from there about 9 at night, something like that."

"Who knows?" he says in easy-going fashion. "Just wait 'till it comes out and see if I see myself there."

I've been so far, I must be back
Airline, highway, railroad track
Won't you tell me where we are
I've been so far

And so it goes for this travelin' man. Taking life as it comes. Making people happy. And playing good music that will, whether he knows it or not, stand the test of time. If he ever stopped, he'd be missed. But stopping isn't in his plans.

"I been getting good crowds. It only took 50 years," he laughs. "But I got an audience that knows what I do. They usually show up, so I usually do pretty good."

He said it now includes daughters and sons of his original fans, "so I get a lot different ages."

A lot of singer-performers are in vogue now—like Dianna Krall and John Pizzarelli—and it seems the dual talent is currently a good way to get marketed. But Allison hasn't given that much thought. He's heard some of them, but doesn't seem to pay them any mind. He's just gonna mosey along, unconcerned.

"They do a completely different thing than me, anyhow," he says. "Those are singers who are doin' standards. I do very few standards. Hardly any. Other people's tunes that I do are usually obscure tunes, for the most part, although I do a couple of Duke Ellington tunes that are well known.


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