Mary Moss: Remembering the Lady with A Song

Mary Moss

 Elegance walked into every room with Mary Moss, and she generously left the gift when she took her final bow on January 8.

Known as “The Lady With A Song,” my memory of Mary Moss lingers on both ‘Lady’ and “Song.” Always impeccably attired, Miss Mary knew how to bring style to the stage—not the latest flashy stuff, but enduring class, and she wasn’t as much concerned with ‘what’ makes a song pertinent, but with how it becomes essential. While the entire Vocalese Tribute program at the Jazz Kitchen on January 29 paid homage to the diva whose blues-based swinging style endeared her to listeners, Brenda Williams shared the classic Mary Moss with an exacting rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

Not afraid to lure us into the childlike questioning of cultural conditions less than sterling, Mary dared to state a fact, not merely sing a line to a pretty melody. “If bluebirds can fly …not just as they are supposed to, but “over the rainbow”…HOLD that point… then SET your eye on the rainbow — and not merely express a longing with a question…”why can’t I? — set a goal to fly over that rainbow – period.

Mary Moss flew over the rainbow and took us with her not so much to dare, as to do.

Ralph Adams, in his closing remarks put it into perspective. “There was not a closed door Mary could not walk through. She was one determined lady.”

“She taught us how to dress, how to find our light, how to connect with our audience,” shared Brenda Williams, recalling the times they appeared together.

Moss was inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.

“Indianapolis is an instrumental jazz town. It’s not easy making your way as a vocalist here,” said Wendy Reed, during a conversation between the shows. “Mary was our mentor, part of a vocalists’ Rat Pack showing us how to act, find our style. That’s how we learn, older singers teaming up with the younger, passing on the traditions.”

Along with Williams and Reed, who also served as emcee, we heard Yvonne Allu, Laney Wilson, Julie Houston, Carol Rhyne and Bashiri Asasd. The combo featured Kevin Anker on keys, Kenny Phelps on drums, Nick Tucker on bass, and trumpeter Clifford Ratliff.

Mary Moss’ generosity of spirit is the legacy for Vocalese, an on-going series at The Jazz Kitchen when vocalists are backed by a combo and the audience experiences the interplay between song stylists and instrumentalists.