Friday, August 31, 2007

A couple of Mose's

Memphis Music & Heritage Festival pays tribute to Mose Vinson:

Born in north Mississippi in 1917, the boogie-woogie pianist served as janitor and fill-in session musician at Sun in the '50s; when Peiser met him, he was playing at Peanut's, a seedy Midtown bar.

"Mose goes back to dirt. He looked like he was 150 years old when he was about 50," recalls local producer and performer Jim Dickinson, who, along with Vinson, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Bond, and the Spirit of Memphis gospel quartet, was a headliner at the Center for Southern Folklore's first Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, held in 1982. (The festival became an annual event in 1988.)

In 1997, Dickinson, Peiser, and Knox Phillips co-produced Piano Man, Vinson's first solo album.

"For me, it wasn't as much the historical aspect as it was getting the musical qualities of his voice on tape," Dickinson says. "I cut Mose the same way I did the Replacements. I just tried to make him comfortable and take him back to a certain place in time. When Mose asked, 'You ain't got no pain pills?' that just made it for me."

Dickinson, Bond, and the Spirit of Memphis will reprise their '82 appearances with new sets at this year's Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, which Peiser views as a tribute to Vinson, who died in 2002.
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Mose Allison: ‘I’m dealin’ with the essentials’

Jazz sage Mose Allison, 80, could be forgiven for kicking back on his front porch and singing to himself instead of hustling off to 120-plus dates a year.Problem is, he’s not yet tired of hipping generation after generation to his vinegary piano style and spot-on social commentary. Allison says his classic attack-of-the-fascists dirge, “Monsters of the Id,” has never been better received.

Jazz sage Mose Allison will perform Friday and Saturday at Lansing's JazzFest. Photo courtesy of Carol Fridman.“People come up and ask me, ‘Did you just write that song?’ and I did it 40 years ago,” Allison says.

“The same things always keep happening,” he declares. “There’s always a war, there’s always hypocrisy and political maneuvering, corruption and all that stuff. I’m dealin’ with the essentials.”

“Monsters of the Id” paints a blackly funny picture of society’s self-styled leaders. “Creatures from the swamp are writing their own Mein Kampf,” he sings in his famous seen-it-all drawl. As usual, he pretends to calm while stirring the muck in your mind. “No need to make a fuss,” he reassures. “No need to cause a scene. They know what’s best for us. They’re fighting fire with gasoline.”

As the ship of civilization sinks deeper and deeper, audiences love nothing more than to pull up a deck chair near Allison and enjoy the nosedive.

“I still enjoy playing,” he says. “The traveling is getting to be kind of a drag. That will probably have more to do with me quitting than anything else. Once I get to the piano, I’m OK.”

Allison’s melting-pot keyboard style mixes several jazz variants, from Gerwhwin-esque polish to Thelonious Monk prickliness, with traces of hard blues and deep country from his Mississippi youth. His terse tunes skitter like a knife on a cutting board, while his lyrics make him one of the great American gentleman malcontents on the order of Mark Twain and Bob Dylan....

Growing up in rural Tippo, Miss., at the heart of the Mississippi River delta, Allison was steeped in blues, jazz, big-band swing and country music. He also took classical music lessons and was drawn to the authority and flexibility of the piano. “I grew up listening to Nat King Cole and Erroll Garner, and then I started listening to Monk and John Lewis and Bud Powell,” he says.
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