We looked back at all of the shows and events that we have covered on the Blues Beat page in 2012 and came up with a couple of favorites. The article by Charley Burch first fan on March 23. Enjoy!
BluesWax Spotlight On
By Charley Burch
Mose Allison’s performance in Cleveland, Mississippi, on February 15, 2012, was an event that was long in the planning by the State of Mississippi and Delta State University. Composer, poet, pianist, and vocalist Mose Allison appeared in concert at 7:30 p.m. in the Bologna Performing Arts Center on the Delta State campus. The concert was titled “DSU Welcomes Mose Allison Home” and was made possible by funding from the Delta State Foundation, Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the Bologna Performing Arts Center, the Tri-State Education Foundation, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Mississippi Arts Commission. The performance was free to the public.
Multi-Grammy Award-winning composer and pianist Mose Allison was born in 1927 in Tallahatchie County, where he was influenced by the bluesmen that lived and performed regionally and on his father’s farm. Allison has since lived in New York City and Hilton Head. He has been a major influence on musicians over the last 50 years and has been touring for at least that long. Allison has released 55 albums in his career. He has been a major influence upon many genres and his songs have been recorded by modern day popular artists, such as Van Morrison, The Who, Diana Krall, The Clash, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, and Elvis Costello. Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones listed Allison as a major influence on his own career. Allison’s singular style, a unique blending of jazz and blues, and his profound lyrical wit mark him as a true American original.
The opening act was comprised of Jimmy Jarratt from Madison, Mississippi, on piano; Bret Pimentel (Assistant Professor of Woodwinds at DSU) on saxes; Paul Hankins (bandleader and Interim Dean of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Trumpet at DSU) on trumpet; Ben Arnold (Instructor of Percussion & Music Education – Mississippi Valley State University) on drums; and, Barry Bays (Instructor, Director of DMI Ensembles – Delta Music Institute, DSU) on upright bass (in a suit!). Their intro began magnificently with “Blue Soul” by Richard “Blue” Mitchell and segued into Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” made famous by Duke Ellington and a later version with lyrics sung by Ella Fitzgerald. A dreamy rendition of Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa” was next and they finished with John Coltrane’s complexly classic “Impressions.”
Dr. Luther Brown then took the stage to “introduce Allison and welcome him home.” Allison took his seat at the Baldwin Grand and was accompanied by great Memphis friends and musicians Sam Shoup ( www.samshoup.com) on upright bass and Tom Lonardo (www.tomlonardo.com) on drums. “Mose always opens his sets with a long jam. This time it was an arranged intro “Chart” that sequed into “Dr, Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” which had an imaginative musical theater-like intro that shifted into Allison’s signature witty storytelling technique. Not wearing glasses, as I was told he was supposed to, Allison had his charts and sheet music flat on the piano’s top while his rhythm section remained transfixed to their sheets which were angularly positioned on music stands before their eyes and required their constant focus. It was clear that Allison knew every note by heart and their necessary expression and selections were “in the moment” and executed with masterful precision.
Two works from early recordings cover the subject of his leaving the farm: “City Home” and “Goin’ To The City.” “If You’re going to the City…,” the Maestro gives us the first of many Southern Gentlemanly advice like lines straight out of a Mark Twain novel or Will Rogers quotations, “..don’t take money from a woman and don’t mess around with no dope.” He then challenged us to “Tell Me Somethin’ (that I don’t know).” All of these opening selections, as with much of Allison’s work, take you into the mind of the composer who is constantly questioning life as well as others who participate in its process. A sagacious man with much to teach us, Allison is clearly a part of something larger than himself and all listening have much to learn if they just take a moment to do so. The order of the maestro’s set list was clearly made on the fly and this was qualified by the audience’s appreciative laughter and applause when it took Allison around seven seconds to claim “This next song was written by……ahhhhh…..Me!” The song was a darkly playful “What’s Your Movie?” We question our existence on earth and purpose of being here with “Ever Since The World Ended,” followed by the evening’s first cover, “You Call It Joggin’ ” by the Tennessee songwriter John D. Loudermilk. Allison made note that this was one of hundreds that Loudermilk has written during his career. This song wonderfully qualifies how most peoples’ efforts are really not as important as they may perceive them to be.
Allison cued Shoup on bass that the next piece, “Your Mind is on Vacation (and your mouth is working overtime),” would be in Blues F. We next take an esoteric journey into the unknown with “Hello Universe,” followed by the duality between right and wrong in “I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’: Feels So Good.” In between his lyrical versing, Allison brings his songs to wondrous fruition by angelic bridges and turns that are as treacherous as a dead man’s curve for the average driver. In “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” Allison stresses that “..they don’t know the meaning of the word” in a playful manner while incorporating incredible economics both lyrically and musically getting the melody and the hook out of the gate without audaciously long intros or mud stirring. Allison gives you the birth and not the labor. Even when nature happens or gravity works (as when a microphone fell out of its stand or his sheet music shifted out of place, Allison played through the piece with ease making nonchalant corrections and pulled it all together like a magician produces his rabbit from a silk top hat. Other selections that magical evening included “My Backyard,” “You Can’t Push People Around,” “Was,” “Ever Since I Stole The Blues,” “You Can Count On Me to Do My Part,” and “Stranger In My Own Hometown” by Percy Mayfield. The encore was from Allison’s latest release on Anti-Records (The Way of The World) titled “My Brain,” which is cleverly fashioned musically after Willie Dixon’s masterpiece for Little Walter “My Babe,” while encapsulating the songwriter’s incredible life and perspective lyrically as only he can do and inarguable ownership of a song even when it’s a cover or re-arrangement.
Allison’s skills and influence have notably rubbed off on his daughter Amy, who unfortunately was not present backstage that night. Her most recent effort, Sheffield Streets, released on Urban Myth Records in 2009 and produced by drummer Don Heffington features Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin, Mose Allison, and Van Dyke Parks. as well as Leisz and other musical luminaries
Allison’s wife Audre told me afterwards that “Mose chooses what he’ll play based mainly on the musicality, the tempo, the key, because he likes to vary this. He does take into consideration the audience he’s playing for, but with so many songs to choose from, that is difficult.” When asked about his take on the evening’s performance, she stated, “I think he was a bit awestruck by the outpouring of affection… certainly more than he’d expected… and in his usual honest humility …more than he thought he deserved.”
Allison’s piano playing is like Bartok meets barrelhouse. Throughout the evening Mose was accenting his trio’s playing and other non-present instrumentation vocally with a fusion of scat and be-bop in undertoned breath. The technique was an evolutionary medley in styles ranging from Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway to Sarah Vaughn and Betty Carter. This was further evidence of this maestro’s composition skills and understanding of his craft and these magnificent multiple instrumental arrangements. From time to time when he wasn’t singing lyrics, he would push the microphone away to avoid a bleed with the trio’s playing. This is something that was much appreciated as being still present in the mix because it took the listener in the audience on a fantastic voyage into this wonderful mind. Anyone who plays with Mose Allison better understand how to read music and notations or they are going to get very lost very quickly. Just when you think he is running off the rails or freely improvising, you better be on point or it’s all over for you. He will definitely be back there and online and you will slam into a wall or drift into oblivion, because he wrote everything down both on paper and mental valence or virtual H.U.D.. Allison reminds me of Les Paul in many ways. Both men disciplined students of classical and jazz music who with their master skill sets freed themselves and are known by most as great contributors to 20th century music. Allison and Paul are like the great master abstract painters Picasso and Dali, both of the Paris School, studied and mastered traditional formulas and techniques and later “freed” themselves and began movements of their own.
The youth of today are in a dark ages musically and maestros like Mose Allison are their beacon of light. In an era of songwriters speaking from a heart limited in experience to musicians no longer learning how to read sheet music, Allsion reminds us that we must constantly be students of a craft that we might possibly never master (even if you are a wiz at Garage Band and Pitchfork digs your beard). I encourage both musicians and music fans to revisit this great artist’s vast body of work and mastering of the art form. More information at his site.
After his performance at Delta State, Allison was honored in Jackson where the Mississippi Arts Commission presented him with the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday, February 16, at 1:00 p.m. at the Wells Memorial United Methodist Church. Alex Thomas and The Mississippi Blues Commission unveiled a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in his honor on Friday, February 17, at 1:30 p.m. at the Allison Mercantile Store in Tippo, Mississippi. A reception and program presented by CARE immediately followed the unveiling ceremony at the CARE building in Morgan Freeman’s home base of Charleston. Mississippi.
Charley Burch is a writer and producer in Memphis.
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