Jazz Profiles from NPR
Mose Allison
Produced by Ben Sidran

Mose Allison  

The music of pianist, singer, and composer Mose Allison has had an influence well beyond his record sales. Known as "The William Faulkner of Jazz," Allison has been recording for more than 35 years and few musicians have had greater impact as a stylist or songwriter.

Hear record producer Joel Dorn, biographer Patti Jones, and singer Van Morrison talk about Mose Allison's influence on British pop

Along with Art Blakey and Horace Silver, Allison helped reintroduce the down-home feel of Southern blues to jazz at a time when the genre was becoming more cerebral. Van Morrison rates Mose as one of the greatest songwriters of our century, and musicians everywhere swap Mose's lyrics like punch lines to an inside joke.

Mose was born on Nov. 11, 1927 in Tippo, Mississippi, a one-horse town in the Delta and grew up playing piano in the back of a local gasoline station. Mose attended the University of Mississippi and later Louisiana State University, studying philosophy and literature, before joing the U.S. Army.

Listen to Mose tell how he first began attracted to music while growing up in the Mississippi Delta

Bob Dorough  

After serving in the army, Mose moved to New York City and befriended a group of musicians sharing a loft on 34th Street. Pianist and singer Bob Dorough (left) was among the roommates and through Dorough, Mose picked up sidemen gigs with such luminaries as Stan Getz and Zoot Sims.

Listen to Bob Dorough recall his first encounter with Mose Allison

In New York, Mose was known for his skills as a pianist, but soon his singing began to turn even more heads, establishing him as "the William Faulkner of jazz." In 1956, he released his debut album on Prestige Records. Prestige tried to market Mose as a pop star, while Columbia Records and later Atlantic Records, who signed Mose in 1959 and 1962, retrospectively, tried to market him as a blues artist.

Listen to Mose recall the time Jet magazine wanted to interview him and thought that he was black, because he sang the blues

Louis Jordan  

Mose's piano style is rooted in Delta blues, but he embellishes his rustic sensibility with bebop-oriented improvisations. His playing also betrays his love of European classical composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Charles Ives. But the early influence of Louis Jordan (left) is never far from his mind.

Listen to Mose talk about his piano playing

Today, Mose is becoming something of an icon to a whole new generation of blues/pop musicians. He continues to tour 40 weeks a year, playing his original songs with pick-up rhythm sections and enjoying his one-man crusade to perfect his artistic voice.


View the Mose Allison show playlist


More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site -- NPRJazz.org

ListenListen to a 1996 Morning Edition interview with Mose Allison


More InfoBrowse the Official Mose Allison Web site