Moses Allen

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Moses Allen handed down the Ten Commandments of jazz bass playing from atop Mount Lunceford. At least, that's the way the story would go if jazz history was told as a Biblical blockbuster from the perspective…
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Moses Allen handed down the Ten Commandments of jazz bass playing from atop Mount Lunceford. At least, that's the way the story would go if jazz history was told as a Biblical blockbuster from the perspective of bass players. From a simpler point of view, Moses Allen is yet another of Memphis, TN's claim to rhythm-section glory. He was one of several talented high-school students pressed into service by bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, or more accurately high-school teacher Lunceford. It was 1927, and the man who would become one of the most important big band jazz leaders of the '30s was still earning a living as a teacher at Manassas High School in Memphis. He put together a band at the school which should inspire other bandleaders to prowl high-school grounds looking for talent. This was not only Allen, who like most bassists of that time started out on tuba, but also the superb drummer Jimmy Crawford. Both men would stay in the employ of Lunceford into the early '40s.

After adding further players such as pianist Eddie Wilcox, Lunceford began a trial period of band tours. The group was greeted with such overwhelming acclaim that in 1929 he decided to make bandleading his full-time business. In 1932, Allen switched to bass, the sound of the group slowly evolving toward the modernistic, always ear-catching ensemble that would influence many other players in the genre. Allen's decision to stick with Lunceford was of course of great benefit, as any group would be rewarded by the presence of steady, devoted rhythm section players. The employment with Lunceford alone gave Allen a discography that is longer than many other players that jumped around from band to band. The track "In Dat Mornin'," originally cut for the Bluebird label and reissued again and again, in the afternoon and evening as well as morning, is something of a feature piece for Allen. He performs a kind of vocalized preaching as well as his useful flawless bass playing.

It is possible Allen felt he could never find another band to replace the thrill of the Lunceford outfit, or another relationship with a bandleader as strong as with this mentor and former high-school teacher. Upon leaving the Lunceford outfit in 1942, he opted to open a music shop in New York City and stay out of full-time music. Nonetheless, he did do gigs around the city even into the '60s, and like the prophet his name claims him to be, he was one of the earliest musicians to dabble with the electric version of the bass.