Sunday, December 19, 2010
By Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette squirrel
Whether it was as the man blowing the horn on the record or the mentor bringing the talent out of a young musician, John Clifford Mosley Jr. made his mark.
You can still hear him. Listen to the flute being played during the opening of The Isley Brothers' cover of "Spill the Wine." There he is and always will be.
Mr. Mosley, whose musical talents took him from scrappy roots in Homewood-Brushton to stages and studios around the world, died Wednesday after a long illness at his home in Wilkinsburg. He was 60.
His journey began with the call of a trumpet.
"He started playing trumpet when he was around 9 years old and played for the rest of his life," said his sister, Victoria Mosley Rivers. "The trumpet was his main instrument, but he also played the flugelhorn, the long horn and the flute."
Born in Belmar Gardens, Mr. Mosley attended Schenley High School, where he played with the band and the orchestra. He followed the music to clubs such as The Hurricane and Hank and Dawn's on Herron Avenue. The Crawford Grill wouldn't let him in because of his age, so he stood outside and listened to John Coltrane's final Pittsburgh performance.
"Our father died when he was 12 and our mother worked very hard to make sure he had his private lessons," Ms. Rivers said.
Mr. Mosley studied with Anthony Pasquerelli of Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Pops Orchestra. Upon graduating from Schenley in 1968, he accepted a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in New York and took summer classes at Juilliard. He later attended Mannes College of Music and studied with Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Kenny Durham, Jimmy Owens, Dizzy Gillespie and Woodie Shaw.
"When he was younger, his passion was jazz," his sister said. "He got caught up in that jazz scene in New York in the late '60s and early '70s. He was in the thick of it.
"He was always front and center. He had a powerful sound and mastered his techniques, but he was very versatile and open to changes."
He became one of the most acclaimed jazz sidemen of the 1970s, recording and touring with Roy Haynes and Roy Ayers. By the mid-'70s, he was regularly playing with The Isley Brothers as well as the house band at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the Cheetah Club in Midtown.
Raynard Ford of Wilkinsburg grew up with Mr. Mosley, attending the same Sunday school in Homewood. As teenagers, they were in the Upward Bound program together, and Mr. Mosley taught Mr. Ford how to play the flute. They were lifelong friends, keeping in touch through the years when Mr. Mosley was on the road with assorted tour dates and jazz festivals.
"He said the road wore him out," Mr. Ford said. "It's a lonely life. You're always moving from city to city. But you do what you have to do to keep yourself up.
"He came back from Houston in the early '80s, and started a group called John Mosley and Jazz Ministry. We played at the Crawford Grill for a few years.
"It was a lot of fun because I was learning. I was inspired. We would play two or three times a week. But the music business wasn't flourishing here at that time. There were good musicians, but this was a smaller city."
Mr. Mosley often played with Roger Humphries' R.H. Factor, as well as with Nelson Harrison, Kenny Blake and Tony Campbell. He then went to San Francisco and then Philadelphia, where his sister lived, and took a job with the Department of Health and Human Services. He called his travels "wilderness wanderings."
In 1995, he returned to Pittsburgh and set about ridding himself of the drug addictions he'd fallen into on the road. He found his salvation in the former St. Francis Hospital and the Union Baptist Church in Swissvale, where he played in the brass section of the gospel group.
In 1997, Mr. Mosley joined Mr. Ford who was starting the Union Baptist Music Workshop, tutoring young musicians.
Asked what attracted him to gospel music, he said, "It moves me inside."
"Sunday was his day for church," his sister said. "But he would always do jazz. He was always pulling together a group and playing the clubs."
Survivors include a daughter, Nicole Mosley of New York City; sons, John Mosley III of Maryland and Jason Mosley of Texas; and two grandchildren.
Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, 720 N. Lang Ave., Homewood. A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Union Baptist Church in Swissvale.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.