Allison, Mose [1927 - ]
Mose Allison was born on November 11, 1927 in tiny Tippo, Mississippi, learnt piano as a child, played in the US Army Band, attended first the University of Mississippi and then gained a BA in English and Philosophy at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1952. He moved to New York City in 1956, where he played with jazz names like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Charlie Byrd, and from 1957 quickly moved record labels from Prestige to Columbia to Atlantic but then stayed with this once-indy label for decades. He was quick at making albums, too: he made eight LPs for Prestige in a three-year period.
Allison was not at all your archetypal blues man, though he did wander towards the blues rather than simply play jazz. He was a sophisticat with an unemotional keyboard style combined with a knowing vocal flippancy, but while he certainly trademarked this finger-snap jazz side to his style - such an unfortunate influence on VAN MORRISON - nevertheless the downhome blues was his basic inspiration and he was a popular Greenwich Village performer whom Dylan would certainly have encountered. One of the things SUZE ROTOLO emphasises in her testimony is that the Village was explored in its every facet - that she and Dylan, like many others, would try out all kinds of events and venues and genres and art forms.
As she says it: ‘You were young, you’d be hanging out, there’d be musicians with you, so you’d go from place to place… and people did different things. So it wasn’t just to hear folk music. I went to jazz clubs all the time… and by the end of the night we’d go down to Chinatown to have some food… there was a lot of stuff going on, culturally going on, and a lot of different ideas through this music, and through the poetry, the jazz, the stand-up, the folk, the whatever.’
Mose Allison’s version of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ was a fixture of Village musical life, as was his uptown jazz re-interpretation of BUKKA WHITE’s ‘Parchman Farm’, in which Allison [sometimes] paired the line ‘Way down on Parchman Farm’ with ‘The place was loaded with rustic charm’. Though Bob Dylan would never have written such a pay-off line, the act of respecting source-material and smiling at it at the same time is something we might recognise as Dylanesque.
Allison was introduced to Dylan by Bill Cosby outside the Village Gate, where Allison was working at the time. He tended to work a month at a time there, plus two or three nights a year as opening act for other people at the Village Vanguard. Cosby told Allison as he introduced Dylan: ‘He’s into WOODY GUTHRIE’. Mose Allison had no interest in Guthrie whatsoever, but somebody gave him Dylan’s début album and he liked it. He thought ‘it was different, the sound and the tunes. And I liked the humor: I liked “Talkin’ New York”.’
A few weeks later Dylan and JOHN HAMMOND, JR. came to one of his shows at the Village Vanguard, and later still, when he was back working at the Gate, Allison remembers driving Dylan around in his car one time, and an evening ‘sitting at a table with Bob, telling him about a record I had just heard and thought was good, “Rise to Fall”, by Edgar Winter. Minutes later Edgar Winter walked in the place. That’s the last time I ever saw Bob except on TV.’
Mose Allison is still up and running, with a youthful speaking voice belied by his looking strikingly similar to LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI. In 2001 he was a ‘special guest’ in the movie The Score, directed by Frank Oz and starring Robert de Niro and Marlon Brando. He still performs, and in 2005 the BBC filmed a documentary about him. He dropped ‘Parchman Farm’ from his repertoire many years ago.
[Mose Allison quotes: e-mail to & phone-call with this writer, 10 & 12 Nov 2005.]