Mose bills his music as Jazz, Blues, Ragtime and Swing because (as he says) “those are the four things I’ve been accused of most often”.Veteran performer MOSE SCARLETT is, unarguably, one of a kind. While he draws on a wide range of musical sources, from the early 1900’s through the 40’s, his style defies categorization or comparison – the blend is unique. He bills his music as ‘Jazz, Blues, Ragtime and Swing‘ because, as he says, “those are the four things I’ve been accused of most often”. His self-taught, original technique of finger-picking, dubbed ‘stride guitar’ by Canadian music journalists, delivers a syncopated punch and features simultaneous chords, melody and bass line, smoothly executed, and seemingly effortless.
Over the resplendent guitar backing rides a big bass-baritone voice, warm and rich, with enormous emotional range. As the GLASGOW HERALD once cannily said,
“Mose Scarlett is back, with a voice of Robeson depth, Glencoe cragginess, and kitchen-range warmth…lending the authentic ring of the ancients with his own original stamp, and much spontaneous repartee…”
Mose’s eclectic repertoire includes Broadway classics like ‘I Can’t Get Started’, raunchy blues like ‘Fool’s Paradise’, and nearly forgotten gems like ‘The Moon Is A Silver Dollar’. A jocular tentshow ditty like ‘He’s In The Jailhouse Now’ will bump up against a mellow, jazzy ‘Sweet Lorraine’, and be followed by a raucous jaunt through ‘Somebody Stole My Gal’, or by the turn-of-the-century sentimental favourite, ‘Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie’. Although his pieces are performed only with voice and acoustic guitar, one might almost believe a big band or parlour orchestra was playing in the background. He at once breathes new life into old songs, and preserves the integrity and emotion of the originals for a whole new generation of admirers.
Once, when asked who his influences were, Mose replied “I’ve probably been influenced, one way or another, by everybody whose music I’ve liked or disliked”. In fact, the Scarlett guitar style was pretty much forged in isolation. “Basically,” he says, “I made up my own way of playing before I heard anyone trying to do similar things…but later on, various people helped me to refine it.”…people like his friend and mentor the late Lonnie Johnson, who played with Eddie Lang, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong…like modernist musician Bruce Cockburn, who produced Mose’s first album…like Doc and Merle Watson, whom he used to watch with rapt attention from 5 feet away…and like Jesse ‘Lonecat’ Fuller, one-man-band extraordinaire, the first artist Mose remembers buying a record of. Mose himself, conversely, should be credited with influencing many other musicians over his 40+ years in show business, a fact which has not gone unnoticed in several music journals and artistic autobiographies. Juno winner John Bottomley is a former guitar student of Mose’s, and many other musical friends, like Canada’s irrepressible Big Rude Jake and America’s inimitably eccentric Leon Redbone, allow that Mose had a big impact on their performing styles. He is widely respected among his peers, both for his talents and his wide generosity.
A Mose Scarlett performance is much more than mere instrumental and vocal display. Mose’s sets, at times, seem like finely executed pieces of theatre (albeit, sometimes, the theatre of the absurd). His patter includes entertaining and topical commentary on the foibles of the world (who else would think of introducing the ‘Sheik of Araby’ with a dissertation on oil prices?). In Mose’s vicinity the unexpected is never far off no one knows what is going to happen next (particularly his sidemen). He is deeply rooted in musical history to give but one example, he performs ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ with the rarelyheard verse and extra lyrics (though without a basketball). A keen observer of the contemporary scene, he is a trenchant social critic and a droll raconteur with many stories to tell. His banter between songs is legendary, both for its sly hilarity and tangential digressions.
Though Mose is a fixture on the Canadian scene, performing throughout the country at festivals, clubs and theatres, he has also toured widely through the United States, as well as in England, Scotland, Germany, Australia and, most recently, Northern Ireland. Besides having performed solo or, more often these days, with various accompanists, he also appeared, for 20 years, in a well-loved trio with Ken Whiteley and the late musical legend, Jackie Washington, all three of whom were nominated for a 1993 ‘Roots and Traditional’ Juno award for their first recording together, entitled ‘Where Old Friends Meet’ (followed, since, by other trio recordings). At long last, in September of 2002, some 7 years after the debut of his very popular ‘The Fundamental Things’ recording, Mose came out with another of his own, entitled ‘Precious Seconds’. This latter CD (now into its second run) features Mose in duet with world-class guitarist friends: Jim Condie, Amos Garrett, the late Jeff Healey, Colin Linden, Tony Quarrington, Margaret Stowe, Ken Whiteley, and David Wilcox.
Mose Scarlett is a Borealis Records recording artist.