Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Young Man Mose - LA Citybeat
From the LA Citybeat (2/18/2009)
Few jazz pianists of the last 60 years can distinguish themselves on as many fronts as Mose Allison. Nat “King” Cole had the hands and the voice. So did Shirley Horn. But no one could sling a barb like the man from Tippo.
Pianist/vocalist/songwriter Allison recorded his first slab of wax at the height of the Eisenhower administration, and for a little over half a century has been steadily enthralling a post-bop audience with cutting lyrical put-downs like, “If silence was golden, you couldn’t raise a dime/Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime.” He’s traveled as far as any jazz musician can, having shared stages with Stan Getz and the Rolling Stones, as well as lending tunes to the likes of Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and the Clash.
Raised on the music that surrounded his Mississippi upbringing, he created a style of hipster blues uniquely his that struck a chord at the farm and in the city both: “When I put on Mose’s albums I was transported to the American South, although I had never been in America,” says British keyboardist Brian Auger, whose 1968 debut included a rendition of Allison’s “If You Live.” “Mose’s piano playing and lyrics took me to the American South in a way that I could smell and taste.”
After a stint in the army and the acquisition of a dual English/philosophy degree from Louisiana State University, Allison set off for New York with the promise of work from legendary saxophonist Al Cohn. From there, Allison went on to record his first few records with the legendary Prestige label. Several years and albums later, Allison became an Atlantic recording artist following a five minute meeting with impresario Nesuhi Ertegun.
“I figured that I would do it as long as I could. The first few years there was very little money, but after I came to New York things got better,” says Allison now, calling from the unusually cold confines of his Southern winter hideout.
When Allison joined Atlantic Records in 1962, Ray Charles was on his way out the door. Ten years later, after a prolific period of releases that included modern standards “Tell Me Something” and “I’m Not Talking,” Mose moved on while the J. Geils Band was busy earning gold records to hang in the hallway.
“They were always after me to do more commercial albums. So I didn’t do anything for awhile,” Allison says. “[Atlantic producer] Jerry Wexler was always trying to get me to go down South. I figured if I did something like that, and it was a hit, I would have to keep doing it. If it wasn’t, I’d probably lose my contract.”
There was something in that uncompromising message that resonated even stronger across the pond. Allison’s caustic wit – and refined sense of swing – introduced itself into many influential Britons’ record collections. Whether it was his suffer-no-fools attitude or his distinct singing drawl, even Allison is stumped by the British acclaim.
“A lot of people recorded my songs.” says Allison. “Georgie Fame was the first one. He did some of my material in the early ’60s. After that several of them did it.” From the Bluesbreakers’ mouth-harp assault on “Parchman Farm,” to the Who’s windmill through “Young Man Blues,” the list of renditions – also including the Yardbirds, Cactus, Blue Cheer and a whole tribute album by Van Morrison – is staggering. Says Allison: “I think people should do what they want, because I do the same thing with other people’s songs.”
Is there a wrong way to cover one of his tunes? “The only wrong way is to not get the mechanical licenses.”
For the last few years, Allison has been returning to the Jazz Bakery to soak in the sun and play a little piano in between.
“There are a lot of jazz musicians out there that don’t work much,” he laments. “There are not that many gigs left.”
Allison has always toured alone. Since the beginning of his career, much like Chuck Berry, he’s hired musicians to support him. In 1965 while sharing a bill, John Coltrane expressed envy at his efficient approach. Local four-stringer Tom Warrington has answered Allison’s phone call for the last 12 years.
“It’s always great to play with Mose. I really enjoy his tunes, the wit of his lyrics, his slant on life and current events,” he says. For his visits to Los Angeles Allison usually plays as a duo. But, says Allison, “That’s all the support I need, really.”
So, for another year, Allison returns with a dose of cantankerous irony for a crowd of like-minded cynics eager to hear the sage’s wisdom.
“There are a couple of people that want me to record. I don’t feel there is a need for another record,” he says. “But I may be wrong. I’m still playing 100 nights a year. So far, so good.”
Mose Allison, with bassist Tom Warrington, at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Los Angeles; jazzbakery.com. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $15-$30. All ages. Visit Mose Allison at moseallison.com.
Young Man Mose @ LA Citybeat