November 11, 2015
Allen Toussaint, age 77, died yesterday in Spain where he was touring, still entertaining audiences the world over.
The New Orleans Advocate obituary/remembrance by music critic Keith Spera gives you an idea of Tossaint's place in that city's musical hierarchy. If you're unfamiliar with the man's name, it's a safe bet that you've heard his music covered by singers for decades. His songs have been performed by dozens of New Orleans most celebrated artists and covered by musicians from Paul McCartney to Elvis Costello.
A towering figure in New Orleans style music since the 1960s, Toussaint played at Scullers Jazz Club on the Boston/Cambridge, MA, border in 2009. The way the audience responded, you'd a thought you were in a club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, not the more staid confines of a Boston jazz club. As a salute and farewell, I re-post two reviews of that performance. I imagine he was having the same effect on an audience in Spain the night he died of a heart attack after a performance.
Re-post story 1 below: http://ptatlarge.typepad.com/ptatlarge/2009/08/allen-toussaint.html
Allen Toussaint: New Orleans Roots, American Music
Scullers Jazz Club
400 Soldiers Field Rd
Boston, MA 02134
August 20, 2009
Allen Toussaint. You may not know his name. You know his music. Music that was born in New Orleans and grew up in America.
Perhaps you’ve heard of The Pointer Sisters, Boz Scaggs, The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Manhattan Transfer, Ringo Starr, Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.J. Thomas, Otis Redding, Little Feat, Three Dog Night, Jose Feliciano, Dr. John, Robert Palmer, Sam and Dave, Johnny Winter, The Judds, Lee Dorsey, Al Hirt, Aaron Neville, The Band, Warren Zevon, Irma Thomas, Alison Kraus and Robert Plant? They’ve recorded his songs.
Toussaint produced and arranged for Paul Simon, Patty LaBelle, Paul McCartney and Wings. Joe Cocker and Maria Muldaur traveled to New Orleans to record in Allen Toussaint’s studio.
I knew Toussaint’s name was long associated with New Orleans. I had no idea his musical footprint was so deep.
Last Thursday, Allen Toussaint graced Scullers Jazz Club with a performance that transcended music. A package of dignity, genius, and humanity, he can light up a place as small as Scullers or as big as a few acres at The New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Lights dim. To the stage walks a man in a dark suit, purple and black striped shirt, lavender and rose paisley tie and pocket square. Right away you see the man with the nappy grey hair and salt and pepper mustache isn’t afraid to mix and match in fashion or music.
“All my life I’ve waited for the red light to come on so I could play my music, ” he says after bantering with the audience over our Haavaad Yaad accents. He hasn’t been on stage for more than three minutes and he has us in the palms of his strong key-striding hands.
Toussaint opens with “There’s A Party Goin’ On” and by the time he gets to “You got nothin’ to lose but the blues…” his fingers have pounded or feathered practically every one of the 88 keys on the baby grand.
Toward the end of the song, Toussaint stops, grins impishly at the audience, and says “Your turn…” The surprised silence that ensued for three seconds was the last time this audience would be caught flat eared. “Well,” he says before the next song, “I heard a lot of silence out there when in was your turn.”
He launches into a medley of his songs beginning with “What’s Her Name.” Every time he pauses and nods our way, the audience roars, “What’s her name, what’s her name!” I’m not talking about a subdued, let’s be cool about this, effort, either. This was as unbuttoned Boston as I’ve ever heard. Toussaint kept it up during “Mother In Law” and ‘Working In A Coal Mine” and the Boomer to Slacker-aged salt and pepper audience nailed every chorus.
First, I had no idea he’d penned those songs (and most of the ones that followed) and second, I was blown away by the crowds unfettered collaboration. I mean you practically have to pay a Boston audience to participate in music of any sort.
Maybe part of it is that rollicking sound that’s been called a rhythm and blues rumba crossed with a second line parade. New Orleans’ French, Spanish, Cajun, Caribbean, African heritage is concentrated in Toussaint’s music and he spins it out in his musical centrifuge.
When Toussaint invites tenor saxman Amadee Castenell, a Katrina displaced New Orleans friend who now resides on the North Shore, to the stage for a soulful medley of “Saint James Infirmary" (Anonymous), “Just Can’t Take It" (Toussaint), “Dirty Water" (Toussaint), and “Riding On The City of New Orleans" (Steve Goodman), Castanell proves his New Orleans credentials are for real.
“Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky From Now On” (Toussaint) a swampy boogie rhythm ‘n bluesy song with lots of pedal morphed into quotes from Edelweiss, Chopin, a Christmas carol, show tunes, pop songs of his own, Grieg, to “Chattanooga Choo Choo’, “Tea for Two”, Jelly Roll Morton quotes, Irish jigs, Polish polkas -yes, polkas as in “Roll Out The Barrel”! - , “My Foolish Heart” with a New Orleans rumba tempo and back again to “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky From Now On” all so fast your head hurts from trying to keep up and your jaw is slack with awe and your brain is slapping its knee in joy.
After that, Toussaint settles everybody down again with “So Far Away From Home,” Paul Simon's song built on the architecture of J. S. Bach.
Toussaint often pairs “We Are America, (unknown composer)” a history lesson wrapped in a ballad, with his original of “Yes We Can Can,” (and I couldn’t help thinking of Obama’s campaign slogan) and he does tonight. The piano bench may as well have been a pulpit. The man is preaching what he believes.
When he gets to “The Sweet Touch Of Love,” music used in hot Axe Body Wash commercials, you realize how deeply his music has penetrated the culture.
Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life Woman,” a hit by Lee Dorsey in 1966, re-recorded more times than any of his other songs, is an up-tempo song with echoes of Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, Professor Longhair and the steeped New Orleans tradition. Toussaint’s thin singing voice has never been his calling card but it delivers his songs with infectious energy.
What happened next is spellbinding, and it isn’t even music. Toussaint quietly talks us through a reverie, a tone poem, about childhood trips in which his father packs the family in a 1936 Buick for a trip to visit relatives far far out into the Louisiana countryside.
Toussaint remembers his father saying, “You need to know where you came from so you know where you’re going.” His richly detailed, extended description of the trip is filled with a rootsy sense of place and of belonging.
I’ll bet Toussaint has played softly on the keys and retold this story a thousand times and I cant imagine it feeling any more authentic, heartfelt, and spontaneous than it does right now. By the time he sets to playing “Southern Nights,” the song it inspired, my companion is in tears.
If you’re old enough, you might remember Joel Chandler’s "Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings" which Walt Disney made into the film “Song Of The South.” Toussaint’s final song, “Southern Nights,” is a true Song of the South.
The audience is on its feet cheering. Toussaint shakes hands with patrons in the first row and doesn’t head back to the piano. Sustained cheering could not possibly have produced an encore that could top "Southern Nights". Allen Toussaint slowly exits the room, shaking hands all the way out.
One vignette: at the merchandise table, Mr. Toussaint, still perspiring, stood up from his chair every time a new person came up to ask him to sign an album or CD.
Like I said, dignity, genius, and humanity.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.