DATE: Thursday, February 18, 2010, 8 p.m.
VENUE: Meymandi Concert Hall, Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E South St, Raleigh, NC
PRICES: $20-$30 PineCone members; $25-$35 general public
TICKETS: PineCone’s Box Office 919-664-8302; TicketMaster 919-834-4000, www.ticketmaster.com; and Progress Energy Center Box Office 919-831-6060 (information only)
Allen Toussaint is one of America’s greatest musical treasures. His latest album, The Bright Mississippi, is nominated this year for a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Last year, Toussaint received a Grammys Trustees Award, which is given to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording.” Also last year, he was inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame; he has been a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1998. Toussaint’s indelible influence on American music reaches deep into the roots of rhythm and blues, pop, country, musical theater, blues, and jazz.
Toussaint launched his own solo career around this time with the albums From a Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights. Also during this time, he teamed up with Labelle and produced their highly acclaimed Nightbirds album, which spawned the number one hit “Lady Marmalade.” The same year, Toussaint collaborated with Paul McCartney and Wings for their hit album Venus and Mars. Two years later, Glen Campbell covered Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” and carried the song to number one on the Pop, Country and Adult-Contemporary Charts.
Toussaint’s piano and arrangements show up on hundreds of records during the early 1960s on records by Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, and many other artists. Starting in the 1970s, he switched gears to a funkier sound, writing and producing for a variety of artists. He also began to work with non-New Orleans artists such as Robert Palmer, Willy DeVille, Elkie Brooks, Solomon Burke, and more. Boz Scaggs recorded a Toussaint masterpiece “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” on his 1976 album Silk Degrees.
In the early 1960s, Toussaint wrote and produced a string of hits for New Orleans R&B artists such as Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, The Showmen, and Lee Dorsey. Some of his songs from this period were published under the pseudonym Naomi Neville. The two-sided 1962 hit by Benny Spellman, including “Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette),” later covered by The O’Jays, also had the simple but effective “Fortune Teller,” which was covered by many 1960s rock groups including The Rolling Stones and The Who; in 2007, it was covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on Raising Sand.
Toussaint grew up in a small house in New Orleans, where his mother welcomed and fed all manner of musicians as they practiced and recorded with her son. After a lucky break at age 17 in which he stood in for Huey Smith at a performance with Earl King’s band in Pritchard, Alabama, Toussaint was introduced to a group of local musicians who performed regularly at a night club on LaSalle street Uptown known as the Dew Drop Set.
Toussaint calls the experience of making The Bright Mississippi “wonderful. Everything is live, of course. This isn’t the kind of assembly line music where somebody put the wheels on here and somebody put the top on there. Everything got done at the same time, so everybody fed on each other, their personality and tonality.”
The Bright Mississippi is Toussaint’s first solo album in more than a decade. It includes songs by jazz greats such as Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Toussaint and Henry created a band of highly regarded musicians for the sessions: clarinetist Don Byron, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Additionally, pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman each join Toussaint for a track.
As Henry explains, “At the close of the day’s Our New Orleans session, Allen sat alone at the piano and played through an arrangement he’d devised of Professor Longhair’s Crescent City standard, ‘Tipitina.’ It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before and like everything I’d ever heard.”
Toussaint’s return to the music of his roots was suggested by Joe Henry, a friend and frequent collaborator who produced Toussaint’s 2006 album with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse; tracks from As I Believe to My Soul, a collection of classic R&B and soul songs; and songs on Nonesuch’s 2005 Gulf Coast benefit album, Our New Orleans.
Backed by an all-star jazz combo, Toussaint will perform selections from his vast, legendary catalogue, along with tunes from The Bright Mississippi, which reinterprets some classic New Orleans jazz and blues standards of the past.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling PineCone’s box office at 919-664-8302 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. For more information and complete details about PineCone’s upcoming concerts, visit www.pinecone.org.