Go Down Mose Allison

By Brian L. Knight

When Mose Allison sings songs with lyrics such as "Ever since the world ended, I face the future with a smile" and "You call it jogging, but I call it running around", it is immediately obvious that Allison loves to incorporate humor into his music.

" It belongs in my music. That is one reason that I got into jazz because of the humor of Louis Jordan, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, " Allison comments, " They all had humor in their music. Most of my early heroes had that kind of feel. The exuberance of jazz is what attracted me to it." During his two night stand at Sculler’s Jazz Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the seventy year old Allison kept the audience entertained with this same enthusiasm.

Complementing his humor was an amazing display of vocals and piano playing. For a individual born in Tippo, Mississippi on November 11, 1927, Mose Allison performed his music with the same energy and grace that he possessed when he burst into the music scene with Stan Getz in the mid-1950s. It was also those early years in Mississippi that Allison gained his sense of humor. "There is a lot of irony. That ‘s partly because of the part of the country that I come from - the idioms that I grew up with, " Allison continues, " Understatement, irony, exaggeration and all of those things. It was characteristic of the Mississippi Delta where I grew up."

This past January, Mose Allison released his newest album, Gimcracks and Gewgaws, on Blue Note Records. The album contains 12 new originals with Allison sounding as fresh as ever. Ever since his landmark album, 1957’s Black Country Suite, Allison has been defining his own style of music. By using elements of the Mississippi Delta Blues, honky tonk piano playing, jazz improvisation and folkish humor, Mose Allison created his own genre of music. His melange of musical styles was also reflected by the diverse audience. There were long time jazz aficionados, Berklee Music students, old time hippies and fresh converts. They all cam to see Mose for a different reason. Some came to hear the smooth vocals, some came for the humor or some came to hear the great piano playing. They all definitely came to see Mose Allison. When asked if he considered himself a jazz or blues player, Allison answered with the most southernest of drawls: "I don’t call my self anything. I am musician. I am a musician who plays piano, sings and composes."

Just as his musical style may be unorthodox, so is Allison’s songwriting: "I never doing any songwriting. It just goes on in my mind. I don’t do anything until it is already formed in my head. Then I go to the piano and try to start playing what I thought. Then sometimes it gets changed a little bit when I start putting it together. I can see the song form in my head before I do anything." Allison explains how most of his songs grew out of simple phrases and ideas: " They sometimes lodge into my head for twenty years before they become a song. They used to start out as a joke. A lot of songs started out as something that I thought was a joke."

Although Allison has a new album, he covered his whole career during his hour long set. Only one tune, Cruise Control, came from Gimcracks and Gewgaws. Just like many other songs on the album, this song displayed that Allison was not an artist stuck in the past. By providing commentary to modern devices such as cruise control and cellular phones, Allison displayed his inherent youth and uncanny ability to provide ironic views on life.

Allison’s shows also featured the Paul Del Nero on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums who have played on and off with Allison for years. Mose Allison keeps himself busy by playing 130 dates throughout the year, but never uses the same band. For every city he plays in, Mose Allison calls upon old and new friends to help out with the show. Drummer Bob Gullotti, who has been a veteran of Boston jazz scene for over 25 years, had nothing put praises to say of Allison: " He is wonderful original musician. You know what I mean. No bullshit. He does Blues Festivals, he does jazz gigs. He music is really "uncategorizable". There is so many roots to it but it is all him . He is an original."