New Orleans’ own Allen Toussaint was not only a jack-of-all-musical-trades, he was a master of them. He worked with a string of legendary acts as a producer, arranger, pianist, and songwriter extraordinaire. He also had a lively and lengthy career as a performer and recording artist. He died Monday after a performance in Madrid at the age of 77.
Not only was Allen Toussaint a great musician, he was the Mayor of Nicetown. I used to run into him frequently in my days as a Quarter Rat. He was always impeccably dressed and typically had a big smile on his face. I enjoyed chatting with this warm and gracious music legend. I always called him Mr. Toussaint out of respect and he always replied, “Call me, Allen.” We both stuck to our guns. It was easier for him than trying to remember my name. I was pleased that he recognized me; usually greeting me with a hearty handshake and a booming: “Hey, man, how you been? Good to see you again. What you been up to?”
He was as into old school show business hyperbole as I am. I had a drink with him at a Neil Finn show at the House of Blues once. I must admit that I was surprised to see Allen at this show and asked him about it, “Mr. Finn is a great humanitarian and even greater songwriter. I wish I’d written something as good as Don’t Dream It’s Over.” That was hyperbole in service of modesty.
My favorite example of Toussaintian show biz hyperbole came at a benefit concert. He was the founder of New Orleans Artists’ Against Hunger and Homelessness. That particular year Little Feat were the headliners; in addition to playing a set with his own band, Allen acted as Emcee. The high point for me came when he introduced special guest Glen Campbell as “a dear friend and the greatest man in the world.” I thought I’d died and gone to show biz hyperbole heaven. I didn’t blame Allen for feeling that way: Campbell’s version of his song Southern Nights was a huge hit.
Allen Toussaint was a national treasure and was officially recognized as such by President Obama in 2012 when he bestowed the National Medal of the Arts on my hometown hero. He will be missed by music lovers everywhere but particularly in New Orleans.
On with today’s regular feature with a Toussaintian twist. First, his first solo record with a shortened name from way back in 1958.
Here’s a compilation album of three LPs from the 1970’s:
Finally, his acclaimed 2009 jazz album, Bright Mississippi:
That album proved once and for all that Allen Toussaint could do it all. Not that those of us who knew the man and his music had any doubts. Here’s the whole consarn album on the YouTube: