Mose Allison was born in the Mississippi Delta on his grandfather’s farm near the village of Tippo. At five he discovered he could play the piano by ear and began “picking out” blues and boogie woogie tunes he heard on the local jukebox. In high school he listened to the music of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, and his prime inspiration, Nat Cole of the King Cole Trio. He played trumpet in the marching and dance bands and started writing his own songs.
After a year at the University of Mississippi, he went to the Army in l946, playing in the Army Band in Colorado Springs and performing with accomplished musicians from around the country in small groups at NCO and Officer’s clubs. Returning to Ole Miss he joined the dance band as arranger, piano and trumpet player, but shortly left to form his own trio, playing piano and singing in a style influenced by Nat Cole, Louis Jordan and Erroll Garner. After a year on the road, Mose married, returned to college at Louisiana State University and graduated in 1952 with a BA in English and Philosophy.
He worked in nightclubs throughout the Southeast and West, blending the raw blues of his childhood with modern pianistic influences of John Lewis, Thelonius Monk and Al Haig. His vocal style was influenced by blues singers Percy Mayfield and Charles Brown. Arriving in New York in 1956, Mose received encouragement, work and a record date from Al Cohn. In 1957 he secured his own first recording contract with Prestige Records, recording Back Country Suite, a collection of pieces evoking the Mississippi Delta, released to unanimous critical acclaim. Mose went on to play and record with jazz greats Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan as well as with his own Mose Allison Trio.
Mose continued working with his own trio, writing and singing his own songs. His songs are a fusion of rustic blues and jazz, with profound and often humorous lyrics. As a pianist, while admiring jazz masters Bud Powell and Lenny Tristano, he also learned from composers such as Bartok, Ives, Hindemith and Ruggles. The fusing of these diverse elements into a cohesive performance continues today. A biography, One Man’s Blues: The Life and Music of Mose Allison, written by Patti Jones, was published in 1995 by Quartet Books Ltd. Of London.
Mose continues to write and perform all over the world. His songs have been covered by Van Morrison, John Mayall, The Who, The Clash, Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt to name a few. Van Morrison recorded a tribute album, Tell Me Something, The Songs of Mose Allison, on Verve Records, and rockers like Pete Townshend, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Davies and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones have frequently cited Mose Allison as a major influence. During a recent London engagement, Time Out, the major entertainment weekly, praised Mose:
Mose Allison’s popularity in the UK dates from the ‘60s, when his mixture of Delta-born blues feel and his gift for writing a song with a sting in the tail made him a prime source of inspiration for the UK’s new generation of blues/rock artists. Not just namechecked but lionized by the likes of Pete Townshend, Jack Bruce, Brian Auger and Georgie Fame, he became British rock’s most popular jazz musician. His piano style is notable for its strange mixture of classical-influenced sophistication and blues-based intimacy, and there’s still none like him with a lyric.
His most recent Grammy nomination was for one of his two newest recordings, Mose Chronicles, Live in London, Vol. I on Blue Note Records. Mose Chronicles, Vol II was released a year later. British born director Paul Bernays produced a one hour documentary on Mose entitled, Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, for the BBC. Among recent releases are a dozen reissues on CD including Allison Wonderland, a double CD retrospective on Rhino, and High Jinks, a three CD package on Legacy. Blue Note has also re-released a collection of past recordings, Mose Allison, Jazz Profiles. His music has often been featured in films, and he can be seen performing in the movie, The Score, starring Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando.
Mose resides in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina with his wife of 62 years, Audre. They lived on Long Island, for over 40 years where they raised four children: Alissa, an attorney, John, a telecommunications specialist, Janine. a psychiatrist, and Amy, a singer/songwriter based in New York.
Mose retired from live performance in 2012 and received the honor of being named a jazz master by the NEA in 2013.