Mose Better Blues

Jazz poet laureate Mose Allison thrives on the blues

The ethic of "I Don't Worry" was part of Allison's upbringing. "You get that from rural Mississippi," comments Allison. "I grew up there during the Depression. There were a lot of sharecroppers around. That stoicism and irony and what a lot of people think is cynicism -- I don't think it's cynicism at all because most of it has a humorous side."

"Hallelujah anyhow," a phrase originally coined by the American poet Kenneth Patchen, is one that Allison offers by way of explanation. "You express the bad side," he continues. "You don't try to ignore it. You admit that it's there, but you try to have a few grooves anyhow." Although he's not a particularly religious fellow, Allison compares the blues to religion. "It's survival music, and that's what religion is," he says. "People are religious because they're afraid of dying. They think it's gonna give them eternal life. The blues is just a little more realistic. It's dealing with everyday life, and it's a way of surviving a bad situation, which a lot of the blues singers were in."

It's more than likely that Allison further refined his world view while attending Louisiana State University, where he studied English and philosophy. Though he missed the graduation ceremony owing to a nightclub engagement in Jackson, Mississippi, his academic experience did inform his musical course as he prepared to jump into jazz and follow his destiny to New York City.

Septuagenarian jazz poet laureate Mose Allison thrives on the blues
Carol Friedman
Septuagenarian jazz poet laureate Mose Allison thrives on the blues

"I realized when I studied aesthetics that I could use the music that I grew up with, and it would be okay," he recalls. "That was sort of where I was before I even went to New York. I wanted to get the flavor of the stuff I grew up with and still try to be inventive, still try to play jazz."

Despite his septuagenarian status, Allison seems to be thriving rather than merely surviving. Blue Note, the label that released Gimcracks and Gewgaws, wants another live record. And he's performing about 125 gigs per year. "I enjoy the playing just as much as I ever did," he says. "It's just as much of a challenge, and I'm learning all the time."

The Sage of Tippo is currently taking a hiatus from songwriting, but he has his own reasons for that. "I don't want to just keep repeating myself, and I don't want to do anything that I don't feel an empathy for. So I'm just letting it rest for a while." Allison adds with a laugh: "I think I've covered most of my basic attitudes, anyhow."

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