Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, our spotlight is on the wit and wisdom of Mose Allison, one of the most unique jazz artists of the last half century. Allison, who passed away in 2016, was a musician who could not be easily categorized: he combined the angular and mysterious bop stylings of Thelonious Monk, with the sage wisdom of an old southern bluesman, and the sardonic detachment of a punk rocker. Mose Allison was a jazz original, and we’ll chronicle his 50-year career in this hour.
It’s Mose Allison: The Jazz Sage, coming up next on Afterglow
One Of These Days The Word From Mose
Mose Allison and one of his classic sardonic, self-deprecating looks at life, in this case, the life of a procrastinator. That was his original song “One Of These Days,” from the 1964 Atlantic album The Word From Mose. This became one of Allison’s classic numbers, and he even revisited it in 1976 Atlantic album “Your Mind Is On Vacation.” The 1976 version is notable because, first it shows that even 12 years later Allison was still not getting things right, but it also has him slowing the song down and stretching out certain words, a kind of musical depiction of putting things off.
Music Clip "One Of These Days - 1976"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re looking back on the life and career of the one-of a kind jazz artist Mose Allison.
It’s hard to pin down an artist like Mose Allison: he sits somewhere in the nexus between jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, and folk music. He was an incredible bop pianist, with the soul of a wise old southern blues man, and the ironic attitude of a punk rocker, yet he seemed to have the biggest influence on British invasion rock artists.
Allison was born in the tiny hamlet of Tippo, Mississippi in 1927, and raised on a disparate collection of musical genres, including stride piano, blues singers like Tampa Red, and the King Cole Trio. After attending college at both Louisiana State University and Ole Miss, Allison moved to New York in 1956 to begin working as a jazz pianist, recording with many big name musicians, like saxophonists Al Cohn and Stan Getz.
In New York, it became clear to Allison that he was a unique force in the jazz world. In a 1958 interview with DownBeat, Allison said “in the South, I’m considered an advanced bebop type. In New York, I’m considered a country blues-folk type. Actually, I don’t think I’m either. Maybe I’m a little of both.” Not long before this interview, Mose Allison recorded his first album as a leader, titled Back Country Blues for the Prestige label.
The Back Country suite that makes up most of the album serves as Allison’s mission statement, several short pieces strung together that sound as if Thelonious Monk recorded interpretations of southern folk tunes.
Tucked away with this suite is an introduction to Allison’s unique vocal and songwriting style on an original song simply titled “Blues,” which he later renamed “Young Man’s Blues.” Allison’s voice was flippant and unaffected, and his lyrics dry and sardonic. The song is about a young man’s lament on his treatment in the real world, a kind of precursor to The Who’s “My Generation.” In fact, The Who covered “Young Man’s Blues” in their live sets, and recorded it in 1970 on Live In Leeds.
Here’s Mose Allison in 1957 with “Young Man’s Blues,” on Afterglow.
Mose Allison - Young Man’s Blues
Mose Allison - One Room Country Shack
Mose Allison from his first album Back Country Suite for Prestige Records in 1957, with two originals: “One Room Country Shack” and “Young Man’s Blues.”
Allison’s next five records over the next few years were all for Prestige. On each, Allison tried roughly the same formula: a record featuring mostly instrumentals by his trio, and Allison himself on piano, and occasionally on the trumpet. And into this mix of instrumentals, Allison would add the one or two vocal tracks.
Since he was primarily a jazz performer, most of the vocal tracks that Allison recorded were jazz standards. Although these standards usually leaned towards the blues end of the spectrum, and away from the stuff that Sinatra or Mel Torme would record. Let’s hear two standards now that Allison recorded for Prestige records, both by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell. First, here’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” on Afterglow
Mose Allison - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me (Autumn Song, 1959)
Mose Allison - Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Young Man Mose, 1958)
Mose Allison with two jazz standards, both by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell. We just heard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” from the album Young Man Mose from 1958. Before that, “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” from Autumn Song, an album from 1959.
In addition to these jazz standards, Allison was also known for recording blues covers by old bluesmen like Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon. This is probably one of the reasons he appealed so much to British Invasion rock stars in the 1960s: they both were plumbing the same depths of rare blues songs to cover. Plus Allison, born and raised in Mississippi, had that southern blues authenticity that British blues singers like Roger Daltrey and John Mayall lacked. I’ll play two songs now, one originally by Muddy Waters, the other originally by Bukka White. First, here’s Mose Allison in 1964 with Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone,” on Afterglow.
Mose Allison - Rollin’ Stone (The Word From Mose, 1964)
Mose Allison - Parchman Farm (Local Color, 1958)
Mose Allison with a couple of blues songs. We just heard “Parchman Farm,” Allison’s original ironic take on a 1940 prison blues song called “Parchman Farm Blues” by Bukka White. Before that, we heard Allison in 1964 with Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone.”
Mose Allison spent about a year on the Columbia label in 1960, but his big break came in 1962 when he was signed to Atlantic Records, a label that better knew how to market someone who wasn’t quite jazz, but also wasn’t quite Rhythm and Blues. Allison’s first record with Atlantic, I Don’t Worry About A Thing, marked a turning point, where Allison focused more on his original songs and his unique, wryly funny outlook on life.
Here now is the title track to that record now, a song that could only be described as a pessimist’s guide to taking it easy. Mose Allison in 1962 with “I Don’t Worry About A Thing,” on Afterglow.
Mose Allison, I Don’t Worry About A Thing (1962)
Mose Allison in 1962 with his original song “I Don’t Worry About A Thing.” We’ll hear more from the late Mose Allison after a short break.
We’ll have more from Mose Allison in just a bit.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been listening to the music of the late Mose Allison this hour, who passed away in November 2016 at age 89.
While Allison started out as a jazz pianist with a distinctly sparse and economical style, but he soon became famous for his own songs, which contained sardonic observations on life. Many of Allison’s songs could be self-deprecating, but as a songwriter he also excelled in a wry form of insult comedy. He was a keen observing of the human condition, namely, when someone else was making a fool of themselves.
Here’s Allison in 1962 with one of his classic insult songs, “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” on Afterglow.
Mose Allison, “Your Mind Is On Vacation” (1962, I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
Mose Allison, “If You’re Going To The City” (1968, I’ve Been Doing Some Thinking)
From the 1968 album I’ve Been Doing Some Thinking, that was Mose Allison with his original song “If You’re Going To The City,” a song he recorded several times over the course of his career. Before that, we heard Mose in 1962 with “Your Mind Is On Vacation.”
While Mose Allison recorded almost an album a year for the first 10 years of his career, in the 1970s and 80s, his rate of output declined. Many of these albums he recorded later in his career were live albums, showcasing among other things, Allison’s improvisational skills at the piano. I’ll play for you now tracks from two of those live sets, beginning with Alison in 1972 from the album Mose In Your Ear. [Here he is with the Willie Dixon song, “Seventh Son,” on Afterglow
Mose Allison - Seventh Son
Mose Allison - Ever Since The World Ended
Mose Allison live in London in 2001 with his song “Ever Since The World Ended.” Before that we heard Mose in 1972 with “The Seventh Son.”
Allison eventually became as well known for his songs as he did for his performances. His music was covered by dozens of artists, mostly British invasion rock groups, like the Yardbirds, the Who, and Manfred Mann, but also other artists like Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and Jimi Hendrix. In 1996, artists Van Morrison, Georgie Fame, and Ben Sidran came together to produce an album of Allison’s most well-known songs called Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Mose Allison. They each took turns performing the songs, and Allison himself even makes a guest appearance. Here’s a track from that record now, featuring Van Morrison performing Allison’s original “You Can Count On Me (To Do My Part),” on Afterglow.
Van Morrison - You Can Count On Me To Do My Part
Van Morrison in 1996 performing the Mose Allison song “You Can Count On Me (To Do My Part).
Mose Allison passed away in November 2016 at the age of 89, but he still continued to record in his final two decades. As these later recordings became more sparse, Mose Allison’s music remained incredibly consistent. His 2010 album The Way Of The World sounds slightly weathered, but otherwise remarkably similar to his albums from the late 1950s, and that’s to his credit. If anything, his wit and wisdom became sharper in his later years, while his piano playing and voice retained the same spark and punch. I’ll close off this show with another Allison original from that final album, this one about accepting your fate and letting go of regret. Here’s Mose Allison with “Let It Come Down,” on Afterglow.
Mose Allison - Let It Come Down
Mose Allison in 2009 with his original song “Let It Come Down,” and thanks for tuning in to this edition of Afterglow
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, inviting you to tune in next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook on Afterglow