Nov 15, 2016: Mose Allison, Jazz-Blues Pianist-Singer—Obituary

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Mose Allison in an undated photograph from his website. (Photo: © Michael Wilson)

Mose Allison in an undated photograph from his website (Photo © Michael Wilson)

The pianist/singer/composer Mose Allison, himself a major influence on musicians of the last 50 years, died on Nov. 15, 2016, of natural causes, in Hilton Head, S.C. (His attorney, Roberta Korus, shared the news.) Allison’s songs have been recorded by numerous classic rock greats including The Who (“Young Man Blues”), Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello (“Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” and “Your Mind Is on Vacation [And Your Mouth Is Working Overtime]”), Georgie Fame, The Clash (“Look Here”), John Mayall (“Parchman Farm”), Paul Butterfield, Johnny Winter, the Yardbirds, the Kinks and Diana Krall. His unique blending of jazz and blues, and his profound lyrical wit, marked him as a true American original. Allison had turned 89 four days earlier, on November 11.

Allison was named a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2013, which noted at the time: “Mose Allison is not just a superior talent as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter. Adept in both the blues and jazz, he defies categorization and has been a major influence on musicians, regardless of genre, for more than 50 years.”

Watch the Mose Allison Trio perform on the PBS series Soundstage from 1975

At the time of his passing, an undated message on his website noted: “After 65 years of touring Mose Allison has retired from live performance. He thanks all his devoted fans for the love and support they have shown him over the years.”

Allison was born on November 11, 1927, near Tippo, Miss. He began playing piano at age five and soon became proficient at trumpet as well. Just after World War II, he joined the U.S. Army and played in the 179th Army Ground Forces Band. Allison received a B.A. from Louisiana State University in 1952.

He moved to New York in 1956 and soon began performing with jazz greats Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Phil Woods, among others. Allison recorded and released his debut album, Back Country Suite, in 1957 on Prestige Records, which included the original recorded version of “Young Man Blues,” though its original title was simply “Blues.”

Watch The Who perform “Young Man Blues,” a longtime staple of their live set, in 1970

In 1958, Allison formed a trio, along with Addison Farmer — the brother of horn player Art Farmer — on bass and Nick Stabulas on drums. Though he had taken up songwriting as a boy, he didn’t record an album with vocals until 1963’s Mose Allison Sings.

Describing Allison’s style, the New York Times wrote, in its obituary: “Mr. Allison used his cool, clear voice to conversational effect, with an easy blues inflection that harked back to his upbringing in rural Mississippi. Backing himself at the piano, he favored a loose call and response between voice and instrument, or between right and left hands, often taking tangents informed by the complex harmonies and rhythmic feints of bebop. His artistic persona, evident in his stage manner as well as his songs, suggested a distillation of folk wisdom in a knowing but unpretentious package.”

During his career, Allison recorded more than 25 albums for a variety of record labels, including Prestige, Columbia, Atlantic and Blue Note. The Way of the World (Anti- Records, 2010) was his final studio recording; his most recent overall was Mose Allison: American Legend Live in California (IBis Recordings),recorded in 2006 but only  released last year.

In 1996, Allison served as the opening act on a Van Morrison tour. Morrison recorded an album titled Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison, with Ben Sidran and Georgie Fame, two of his most dedicated disciples.

Related: Musician deaths of 2016

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  1. Ras_Paul
    #1 Ras_Paul 15 November, 2016, 14:06

    Farewell Mose, an American original, and total class act in the couple times I had the fortune to work with you.

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