Friday, May 22, 2009

Toussaint’s turn to jazz

I had the distinct honor, a few weeks ago, of interviewing Allen Toussaint about his new album The Bright Mississippi, out now on Nonesuch. Here’s the result, up today at Blurt:

New Orleans Vitality: Allen Toussaint

Since the 1960s, Allen Toussaint has been nearly synonymous with New Orleans' funk, soul and R&B, writing classic songs like "Fortune Teller," "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley," "Working in a Coal Mine," and "Pain in My Heart" and working with everyone from Lee Dorsey to Paul McCartney to Labelle to Fats Domino to Elvis Costello.

What Toussaint had never really done, until this year's The Bright Mississippi, was to play jazz. Funny, because Toussaint grew up in the town that invented jazz and played piano in its juke joints and dance hops from the age of 13 on. His neighborhood, Gert Town, was full of musicians, an old banjo player on one side of the block, a blind guitarist on the other. The music of New Orleans' funeral marches and Dixieland clubs was in the air, drifting through the windows, playing on radios, and yet Toussaint never tried his hand at it. "Well, I heard jazz, but I didn't take to performing it really," says Toussaint. "I had been busy with the R&B and didn't really know how to find these wonderful songs."


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