Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Remembering Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)

Allen Toussaint at the 2009 San Francisco Jazz Festival (S. Chernis)
The phrase “living legend” is often carelessly bandied about in popular culture, but could well have been coined specifically to describe composer, pianist, singer, producer, and New Orleans music icon Allen Toussaint, who passed away from a heart attack on November 10 in Madrid, Spain following a performance.

An artist synonymous with the gritty, funky R&B of the Crescent City, Toussaint played an integral part in many of the greatest hits to emerge from New Orleans since the 1950s, and his indelible contributions to popular music earned him a much-deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Toussaint's presence graced hundreds of recordings for dozens of artists, including New Orleans mainstays Dr. John, The Meters, the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian Tribe, and Irma Thomas. He recorded 19 albums over his career beginning in 1958 and culminating with his 2013 solo release Songbook, showcasing the composer’s immortal tunes in an intimate piano and vocal setting. The album is a fitting finale to Toussaint’s life and career.

The breadth of Allen Toussaint’s influence is truly incredible. His compositions have been recorded and performed by a veritable who’s-who of artists from all areas of popular music. The Pointer Sisters, Lee Dorsey, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Doors, Iron Butterfly, Glen Campbell, Bo Diddley, The Yardbirds, The Band, Devo, Little Feat, the Jerrry Garcia Band and Otis Redding all covered his songs at points in their careers.

From writing immortal tunes like “Working in a Coal Mine,” “Fortune Teller,” “Southern Nights,” and “Get Out of My Life Woman” to producing albums for Patti Labelle, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney and Solomon Burke, Toussaint’s influence spanned genres and generations. His legacy will live on forever.

Toussaint performed for SFJAZZ numerous times over the years, including his final appearance at the SFJAZZ Center last November with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

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