Mose Allison sounds like he’s having fun. He thinks maybe this interview was scheduled for next week instead of this—and maybe it was—but now’s cool. He’s waiting on a limo to take him to an airport. He’s got a few minutes. How is he this morning?
He’s been living on Long Island, N.Y., long enough to earn most interlopers a pass, but the syrup of his drawl drips plumb to the South, to Mississippi, where Mose Allison began learning his way around blues and jazz and songwriting. After 54 years of performing, he acts like he still doesn’t entirely get it.
“I’m just beginning to learn to do the stuff I wrote 40 years ago,” he says. “I’m just beginning to learn to do my repertoire that I’ve gotten together over the course of 50 years.”
There is no literary tool with which to describe Allison’s pronunciation of “repertoire.”
And no need, really. Allison has gotten his deserved accolades.
He’s “a national treasure,” according to The New Yorker.
To which Allison replies: “It doesn’t have no practical application whatever. If I’m left standing in line somewhere, I can’t say ‘hey, The New Yorker said I was a national treasure.’ I’d get killed.”
He hasn’t recorded much new material lately, and a chunk of his Grammy-nominated back-catalog has been discontinued by Blue Note—no small indignity for one of the hippest lyricists and jazz musicians in the American songbook—but Allison continues to play upwards of 100 nights a year, many in smallish nightclubs with pick-up rhythm sections. In Missoula, it’ll be a drummer from San Francisco and a bass player from Phoenix.
Each night, he seeks the spime.
“That’s my word for space-time. They always say the space-time condominium or something, but I figured there should be a word for that, and so my word for it is the ‘spime.’ And getting into the spime is the whole idea, that means you get into the flow of things.”
Allison flows in the stream of an almost-lost art form: jazz improvisation tied to blues with lyrics. But that hardly means he’s not relevant.
“I don’t do the cotton-sack songs anymore, you know, because that whole era is over, and it’s just as well,” he says.
But these days, “A lot of my tunes, it seems to me, the audience picks up more on ’em now than they did when I wrote ’em.”
Mose Allison performs at The Top Hat on Sun., Aug. 22, at 9 PM. Tickets cost $20 at Rockin Rudy’s. For info call 542-0077.