Mose Allison: Country Sophisticate

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Mose Allison (Photo: Michael Wilson)

JD: Do you have a regular band now?

MA: No. Just pickup musicians.

JD: What would be your ideal band?

MA: That’s hard to say. I actually prefer a trio because it gives me more freedom. Once in a while, I’ll have a guitar player, when I find one I like. Now I’m trying to figure out a band for vocal backgrounds. I don’t know how many pieces it should be. I’m way behind. I’m hanging it up myself trying to decide what I want. Atlantic wants something with a bigger band for vocal backgrounds. I’ve been working on it for months—whether to use two horns, four horns, six horns. I just don’t know. I did another album with a couple of horns and it didn’t come off right. The timbre of my voice gets wiped out by certain instruments. I want definition between my vocals and the background.

JD: You’ve worked with lots of sidemen. Who are your favorites?

MA: It varies. They go through phases and I go through phases. There’s one level of players that are always good. Currently, I’ve been using Walter Booker on bass, and on drums I have had real good results with Billy Higgins and Pete LaRoca.

JD: Who are some guitar players that you like?

MA: I like Sonny Greenwich from Toronto. He came to New York for a couple of months with John Handy and then he went back. I haven’t heard about him since. I like Gabor Szabo, and Grant Green too. I don’t use a guitar player because it clashes with me. There’s always a problem in voicing.

JD: Would you consider recording at Stax in Memphis?

MA: Yes. Nesuhi (Ertegun) mentioned that once. I’d like to give it a try, but I’m hung up on the instrumentation. I like the horns down there, but every instrument you add puts it in a different mood—should I have it loose and let the horns do what they want or should I have a big arranged thing?

JD: Do you do your own arranging too?

MA: Yes. But I don’t like the tedious part—sorting it all out. I think I’ll just lay it out on a tape recorder and let someone else transpose it.

JD: Are you interested in commercial success?

MA: If it happens, it’s great. But I don’t want to push it. I just want to keep working. I’ve got a bunch of original tunes I haven’t recorded yet. I want to set them up to the best advantage. I don’t want a strictly commercial record. I want total control of the music on the date. I don’t want a bunch of things going just because it would sell.

JD: Are you happy the way it is now?

MA: Sort of. I need to have more record sales. Most of my stuff is done with a trio and it doesn’t have much market value. I need somebody else to record my songs. I think eventually a lot of young groups will do my songs.

JD: Would consider the Hiram Brown Suite a highlight in your career?

MA: Yes. It didn’t get much attention, but I think it’s the best I’ve ever done, as far as sustained performance and the tunes themselves are concerned. I’ve used that “country to city” theme for the last few years. I might do something like that again. I’d like to do vocal albums with horns, and piano albums with just the trio. On the piano album, I’d do another long thing. I would be more experienced this time.

JD: Do you listen to all kinds of music?

MA: Yes. Right now I’m interested in folk music. I listen to all the rock groups too. There’s good rock and mediocre rock. But I really like folk music of the world. I listen to a lot of contemporary American composers too. This all goes into my style because I’m still developing.

JD: Any rock bands that you like?

MA: Oh yeah. I like the Beatles, but I didn’t care much for the Sgt. Pepper album. It sounded like they were playing around with London Philharmonic. The London Philharmonic in India. But they have to stay one step ahead. I dug them three years ago best of all. There’s definitely talent in it though.

JD: Do you think your kind of jazz can help to save the jazz scene?

MA: There’s a link between rock ’n’ roll and good jazz playing. It’s definitely there, but it’s hard to define, and it’s hard to make a trend if you can’t define it easily. I don’t know if it can become a trend but it serves a purpose. It’s a go-between for rock and basic jazz.

JD: How do you answer the critics who say jazz is dying?

MA: I really couldn’t say what the future of jazz is. I’d say it’s up to the media. Right now the media are keeping their hands off jazz. There doesn’t seem to be any excitement about jazz. Nobody seems to know what direction it’s trying to go. Maybe the whole merchandising thing is going to have to change. I know new players are having a hard time trying to break ground. The groups that are working are doing okay. But first of all, we have to redesign what jazz is. It’s very confusing. You always hear things about “jazz compositions,” but there’s no such thing. Maybe Ravi Shankar will bring back a new appreciation of Charlie Parker. Rock ’n’ roll is introducing everyone to the basics. Maybe we can grasp things further on through that.

It’s time for something in between farout jazz and basic rock. After all these years of playing, when my time comes, I probably won’t be able to make it. I’ll probably be sick. A rediscovery of the Hiram Brown Suite might be able to do it for me, but that’s about the only one of my albums that you can’t get anymore. That’s typical.

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October 2017
Cécile McLorin Salvant
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