For 50 years, musical hipsters have been talking about Mose Allison's boogie-woogie piano and the way he sings, in a sort of scatting jazz, be-bop style.
Allison, who headlines the Savannah Jazz Festival Thursday at Forsyth Park, was born in 1927 on a farm in rural Mississippi (the closest town's called Tippo). He began recording in the mid ‘50s, and his deep songwriting well has been tapped by Bonnie Raitt, the Who, Elvis Costello, the Yardbirds, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Leon Russell and just about everybody else who enjoys a good exercise in the blues.
He played in Stan Getz' group, and worked with other jazz giants such as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan.
Allison's music has never fit comfortably into a niche - it's blues and it's jazz. He admits he's always had a little problem with categorization.
"It's not strictly blues, as most commercial blues is presented these days," says the octogenarian. "It's a mixture, that's all I can tell you. Here's the thing: I don't know what I'm doing. I've heard so many different comments about what I'm doing. And some of them sounded like they might be partially right.
"My line is, if you say one thing about my style it's going to be wrong - because it's a conglomeration of things. There are several things involved - classic jazz, the kind that swings, and a heavy blues influence. A lot of my vocals are definitely blues-permeated."
His witty, highly literate lyrics can be traced all the way back to school days: Allison holds a Bachelor's in English from Louisiana State University. As for his musical pedigree, well, that came from the school of Southern hard knocks, a keen ear for music, and immense desire.
"I always tell people my inspirations come from three different sources - the jazz influence, the blues, and my English major," he laughs. "Some of my songs are inspired by literary works. I read a lot, and so that all figures in."
"The voices of the Mississippi Delta, they're sort of blended," Allison adds. "My sound is because I grew up there and absorbed all that stuff there in that environment.
"And the early jazz influences were players who were good instrumentalists, but they all sang, like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Nat ‘King' Cole.
"And Louis Jordan had a jump band when I was growing up - he always had hits on the jukebox, and I listened to him a lot. He's a good instrumentalist, but his hits were mostly vocal. That's the kind of people that impressed me."
With Ben Tucker on bass
Where: Forsyth Park, Bull Street at Park Avenue
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24
Also on the bill: Eric Culberson Blues Band, Shane Pruitt Group (Mose Allison performs at 9:30 p.m.)
Savannah Jazz Festival
All events are free
Wednesday, Sept. 23: 7 p.m. at Armstrong Atlantic State University Fine Arts Auditorium. International Groove Conspiracy, the Fly Cats, Longineau Parsons & Flight of the Vultures,
Friday, Sept. 25: 7 p.m. at Forsyth Park. Savannah Arts Academy SkyLite Jazz Band, Groove 8, UNF Jazz Ensemble with Ed Calle. After-festival jam at Blowin' Smoke BBQ.
Saturday, Sept. 26: 3 p.m. at Forsyth Park. The Jazz Corner All-Stars, J.B. Scott's Swingin' All-stars, Coastal Jazz Association Hall of Fame All Stars, Grace Kelly, Ben Riley Trio featuring Jim Hall, Savannah Jazz Orchestra featuring Doug Carn. After-festival jam at Blowin' Smoke BBQ.
Sunday, Sept. 27: 3 p.m.at Forsyth Park. Savannah Youth Jazz Festival with Savannah Arts Academy SkyLite Jazz Band, Coastal Jazz Association All-Stars.