Celebrated Jazz Musician Mose Allison Dies At 89 The pianist, singer and composer's witty lyrics and Southern drawl were favorites of jazz fans and the British rockers who covered his songs, from The Who to The Clash to Van Morrison.
NPR logo

Celebrated Jazz Musician Mose Allison Dies At 89

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502211193/502211194" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Celebrated Jazz Musician Mose Allison Dies At 89

Celebrated Jazz Musician Mose Allison Dies At 89

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502211193/502211194" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Mose Allison had a sharp eye for the way the world works and doesn't, and he put his often acerbic observations into songs propelled by his syncopated piano playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR MIND IS ON VACATION")

MOSE ALLISON: (Singing) You're sitting there yakkin' (ph) right in my face. I guess I'm going to have to put you in your place. You know, if silence was golden, you couldn't raise a dime because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime.

SIEGEL: Allison's wry lyrics, delivered with a distinctive drawl, caught the ears of jazz fans in the late 1950s and made their way to Britain and Ireland along with other blues and jazz records to inspire a generation of aspiring rockers that included The Who, The Kinks, Van Morrison and many others.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Mose Allison died this morning. He had just had a birthday, his 89th, last week. He was born on his grandfather's farm outside Tippo, Miss., as he told NPR in 2004.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALLISON: Ironically, there was a qualified piano teacher right there in Tippo, Miss. And my mother sent me to her when I was 5 years old. And as soon as I found out I could pick things out by ear, I lost interest in learning to read music and all that.

MCEVERS: Alison was inspired by the blues musicians he'd heard around him and by Nat King Cole. He combined those influences to create something distinctive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M NOT TALKING")

ALLISON: (Singing) Don't ask me what it's all about. I used to think I knew it, but man, I just outgrew it. The things that really matter don't mix with idle chatter, and that's one thing that I can do without.

SIEGEL: He wound up in New York City. He played with jazz stars like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. When people heard him sing, they thought he was African-American, to which he would say this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALLISON: It doesn't matter whether you're black or white. What matters is whether you're good (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG MAN BLUES")

ALLISON: (Singing) Oh, well, a young man ain't nothing in this world these days.

MCEVERS: He was good enough to record some 50 albums and had a devoted following. But he was never as popular in this country as he was abroad, where his fans included The Clash, Elvis Costello and The Who, who recorded this song on the album "Live At Leeds."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG MAN BLUES")

THE WHO: (Singing) Well, you know, in the old days, when a young man was a strong man, all the people, they stepped back when a young man walked by.

SIEGEL: Mose Allison said he never knew what to call his music, which is perhaps surprising for an English major. In that NPR interview, he chose to quote a novelist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALLISON: Ishmael Reed is his name. And he wrote a book called "Mumbo Jumbo." And he said that in New Orleans in the '20s, there was a virus that started out. And it made you want to shake your behind and snap your fingers. And it just spread all over the world. And it just grew, so they called it just grew.

SIEGEL: And Mose Allison had a hand or two in spreading it. He died of natural causes this morning at his home in Hilton Head, S.C.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.