Allen Toussaint at Tipitina’s (photo by: Steven Hatley)
As I sit here at work, the shock fading as New Orleans attempts to put one of their favorites to rest, I contemplate and reflect on what was and never was. When the news of Allen Toussaint broke, I was rendered speechless. The hurt in my stomach was nearly unbearable. How can one have such a reaction to the news of someone they didn’t even know? I think more than anything, Mr. Toussaint embodied everything pure and magical about New Orleans. We never saw an ugly side, and his memory does not fade. My experiences with him were few but memorable.
Coming to New Orleans in 1998, my jazz and blues knowledge was slight at best. My mother-in-law and father-in-law lived in New Orleans in the in the late 60s and had a fondness for Pete Fountain and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I’m sure Mr. Toussaint was in the mix somewhere. As the city surrounded me and took us in, my knowledge of jazz and blues grew. While I wasn’t an active Toussaint listener, I knew his material and appreciated his contributions to the New Orleans music scene and the city in general.
In March of 2004, MTV brought its $2 Bill Concert Series to the House of Blues. Jet and The Vines, both in their heydays, were the acts for the evening. Matching up to and carrying on Jet’s blues and gospel sound, Allen made a special guest appearance playing and singing on two tracks. It would be the only time I would have seen him play piano. My other experiences were brief as well–shaking his hand at the Palmer Park fair as he was about to sit in with another of his many friends and watching him sing “Red Spark” and “Shakin’” with John Grows’ last PGF show. The latter was the only time I ever got a chance to photograph him. You can see an album here: http://jalbum.net/a/1675080
Mr. Toussaint was an amazing man and a true testament to the city. He will be deeply missed.