|Allen Toussaint / A great and good man.|
Over the past week, I've been reading many of the wonderful tributes that have been shared about legendary New Orleans musician and producer Allen Toussant, 77, who passed away earlier this month following a concert he performed in Madrid, Spain. It's given me a chance to reflect upon his music legacy.
A native of New Orleans, Toussaint was known equally for his masterful work as a pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Throughout his storied career, he embodied the traditions of New Orleans R&B music and was one of his city's most prolific and influential songwriters and producers.
David Simon, who created the HBO series The Wire and Treme, called Toussaint a "gentle, giving soul and one of the finest composers who ever created American music."
Toussaint could both compose and arrange music, and his piano-playing style was both imaginative and distinctive. As it happened, many of Toussaint's songs became familiar through versions by other musicians, including: "Working in the Coal Mine", "Ride Your Pony", "Fortune Teller", "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)", "Southern Nights", "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "I'll Take a Melody", "Get Out of My Life, Woman", and "Mother-in-Law".
As a producer, Toussaint's credits include Dr. John's hit "Right Place, Wrong Time" and Labelle's "Lady Marmalade." Additionally, Toussaint contributed horn arrangements for the rock group The Band's 1972 'Rock of Ages' concert album, which is where I remember hearing of Toussaint for the first time. I liked what I heard.
"The horn arrangements he wrote for The Band became a staple of our sound from the Academy of Music/Rock of Ages concerts to The Last Waltz,"said Robbie Robertson, guitarist for The Band, in remembering Toussaint last week on his Facebook page. "He was not only a brilliant songwriter, record producer, piano man, arranger and performer; he was also one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. I had the honor of inducting Allen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I couldn't find enough kind words to express how strongly I felt about him and his music."
Personally, I had the joyful experience of seeing Toussaint perform in concert twice: first, at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, on June 20, 2006, as part of a tour he did with Elvis Costello in support of an album they collaborated on following Hurricane Katrina called 'The River in Reverse'; second, in a solo show he gave on May 11, 2007, at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Both were extremely joyful occasions, and I'm grateful for having had the chance to see Toussaint perform live.
On his Facebook page, Costello spoke eloquently of Toussaint: "I have been so lucky to spend even this little time with Allen Toussaint. Allen was unfailingly gracious, elegant and musically curious.
"We last shared the stage at the Civic Center in New Orleans in February of this year. As always, he was thoughtful, bringing a late Mardi Gras gift for my wife (the jazz musician Diana Krall) and asking after the well-being of my sons and my mother, who he had once visited on a trip around Merseyside.
"He signed off every note and phone call the same way; 'Looking Forward'.
"I will miss him very much."
In his recently-published memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Costello devoted an entire chapter to his friendship with Toussaint and the recording of 'The River in Reverse' album. It is defintely worth a few minutes of your time to read:
A day after learning of Toussaint's death, I listened to 'The River in Reverse', an album which came about following the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One of my favorite songs from this album is "Ascension Day." I came across a lovely video for "Ascension Day," which features inspired vocals by Costello and the soulful -- and at times rollicking -- but always harmonic playing by Toussaint on piano.
Allen Toussaint was a great and good man, who left this world much too soon. The world has lost a musical treasure that can never be replaced. Fortunately, his music and recordings live on. Like Elvis Costello and many others, I will miss him very dearly.
God rest your soul, Allen.
Learn more about Allen Toussaint:
Photo: Courtesy of WWNO/Google images.
Video: Courtesy of YouTube.