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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Monday, July 26, 2010

At 82, legendary jazz musician knows the way of the world

At 82, legendary jazz musician knows the way of the world

To put it politely, a few eyebrows must have arched skyward when a white boy, playing trumpet, sat in with B.B. King's band.

After all, this was Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1940s. Social and musical segregation was still a reality in the southern United States.

"That's what they tell me, but I didn't bother about that. I just did what I liked," Mose Allison said during a recent interview. "Nobody said anything to me about segregation or anything."

Allison, of course, was that white trumpet player. He later returned to piano, which he had played since his childhood, and became a jazz and blues giant with cool, deadpan numbers like "Parchman Farm" and "Your Mind Is On Vacation". A generation of British rockers, including Pete Townshend, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame, Paul Jones and Ray Davies still sings Allison's praises. Rightly so, since it's not hard to find the Mississippi-born musician's touch in their music.

Allison is 82 now. He has an easy laugh and is as witty in conversation as you'd expect. He keeps fit by running on the beach a couple of times a week, as he has done for more than 40 years. Allison's new disc, The Way of the World, is his first in 12 years. Produced by Joe Henry, it's funny, loose and inspiring -- a wonderful addition to his oeuvre, which goes back to 1957. That year saw the release of his first album, Back Country Suite, recorded a year after he arrived in New York City. It was only with that move, he said, that he became conscious of race.

"Everybody was telling me that I couldn't do what I was doing because I was a white, Southern country boy who went to college. Nobody thought I could sing the blues," he said.

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