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The House With 88 Keys


 A New Orleans music legend recalls his childhood piano and the love-filled 'shotgun' house where he grew up.

Allen Toussaint, 75, has written dozens of hits—including "Southern Nights," "Working in the Coalmine," and "Whipped Cream." In July, he was presented with a 2012 National Humanities Medal by President Obama. Mr. Toussaint's new album, "Songbook" (Rounder), was released Sept. 24. He spoke with reporter Marc Myers.

Rush Jagoe for The Wall Street Journal

Allen Toussaint in front of the home on College Court where he and his family lived in the Gert Town section of New Orleans. The house now bears a plaque recognizing its role in music history.

For the first 24 years of my life I lived with my parents in Gert Town—a poor section of New Orleans that was rich in spirit. All my young memories are in that dingy-blond 'shotgun' house on College Court. They called it a shotgun house because you could stand in the front and shoot a shotgun straight through it. That's how small it was.

The house had a front room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. My older brother, Vincent, and I slept on a Duofold sofa that opened to a bed, and my older sister, Joyce, slept in one of the two bedrooms. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other. If your mother forgot to leave you the key to the front door, you bothered your neighbors, since everyone's skeleton key worked in all the locks.

When I was 6½ years old, my aunt's Story & Clark upright piano was brought to our house for my sister to play. My sister took several lessons but didn't take to it. Her teacher used to hit her hands when she made mistakes. Eventually I started touching the keys and picked out melodies that I had heard on the radio. Soon my sister showed me how the notes on the keyboard corresponded to music on the page, and I started making up songs.

Rush Jagoe for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Toussaint in his childhood neighborhood.

Our upright wasn't much of a piano—it was a half-step flat the entire time we owned it—but that piano was everything to me. It was dark mahogany, almost black, with rouge crimps all over it. I took about eight piano lessons before my teacher gave up on me. I loved boogie-woogie and hillbilly music and gospel too much.

Everything changed for me when I heard Professor Longhair, a New Orleans blues singer and piano player. I dropped everything, and just played piano and wrote songs. Fortunately the radio was very close to the piano, so I could turn the dial, listen and play along. I stayed on the piano all the time. When company would come over, my mother had me come out to play a boogie-woogie.

The first song I wrote on that piano was a simple little duet for trombone and trumpet. I was about 10. I was inspired by a trombone duet solo on Benny Goodman's "Love Walked In." I never named my song—I wasn't that bold yet. I've not heard it played to this day. I wouldn't even know where it is at this point.

At home, I was treated royally, and my parents were very encouraging about my playing and composing. My parents—Clarence Toussaint and Naomi Neville—loved each other very much. I felt loved and even liked. We all felt we belonged to each other, to our family, instead of to the outside world.

My daddy was a mechanic on the L&N Railroad. He fixed locomotives. He was strong-willed and a strong man physically. He loved fixing things. Anything that was broken in our family came over to our house for repairs, including cars. My dad and I talked a lot. He was a very serous, wise man. I beat him at checkers only once. It brought a smile to his face.

One day when I was 13, I went into his bedroom where he was reading and showed him a trombone part I had written. My dad had been a professional musician but had to drop the trumpet to get a better job and take care of his family. He didn't improvise but he could read music. My trombone part was for a small ensemble: trombone, trumpet and sax. When my father looked over the music, he gave me a compliment that from then on made me feel very positive about what I was doing. He looked up, kind of smiled and said, "You're a genius." To a little boy that word felt great.

On my 14th birthday, I was playing piano and suddenly stopped. I turned my body to the left, straddled the seat and rested my elbows on my thighs. For whatever reason, I said to myself, "I'm 14 and every 10 years I'm going to check back with this 14 year old and tell him how I'm doing." I have no idea how I came up with that, but from then on I had those chats. They don't last long. I talk to myself as though that 14-year-old is still at the piano. I often say how surprised I am at how far I've come. The 14-year old at the piano just listens—but he always seems as surprised as I am.

A version of this article appeared September 27, 2013, on page M12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The House With 88 Keys.



The Song Book


Larry Blumenfeld on jazz and other sounds

BLU NOTES: Larry Blumenfeld on jazz and other sounds


Allen Toussaint Sings His Own Songbook



I’ve encountered Allen Toussaint in the middle of the Fair Grounds, the site of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, on a sweltering day, looking nonetheless cool and unruffled in a blazer and ascot. I remember running into him in Manhattan, as light snow fell, in 2006, after he’d been forced to relocate to New York City, hailing a cab in a neat suit and polka-dot tie, seeming serene despite all else. I’ve heard him whip up old-school R&B frenzy at the Fair Grounds, listened to him stun a packed house into observant silence at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard jazz club.

Last month, President Obama awarded Toussaint the National Medal of Arts for “his contributions as a composer, producer, and performer,” according to the White House website, and “sustaining his city’s rich tradition of rhythm and blues and lifting it to the national stage.” At 75, Toussaint embodies the New Orleans tradition of blending styles to create timeless hits, picking up whereFats Domino left off in the 1950s. Since the 1960s, he has created scores of hits for a stunningly wide range of musicians, from the Lee Dorsey’s 1960s classic “Working in the Coalmine” to 2006’s “River in Reverse” with Elvis Costello, and including Dr. John, Patti LaBelle and Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”).

There’s a great recent chapter to Toussaint’s career—as a solo performer and bandleader. This will be highlighted when he performs at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (8/11) and through the release of the CD/DVD set “Songbook,” due from Rounder September 24.

This latest chapter began in 2005. As writer Ashley Kahn explains in the liner notes to “Songbook”:

With a honed sense of dry humor, Toussaint calls 2005’s Hurricane Katrina his booking agent, crediting the storm for rebooting his career as a performer after flooding him out of home and studio. In order to recover – financially, musically, spiritually – Toussaint relocated to New York City and began to perform solo concerts, using Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street as a home base. Buoyed by a groundswell of support, he worked at something that years of success in the studio had allowed him to avoid: getting truly comfortable on the stage by himself, laying claim to his own songs.

Modesty had a lot to do with it; Allen Toussaint still is not the first person one would go to for information on Allen Toussaint. “I’m not accustomed to talking about myself,” he once explained during a gig, “I talk in the studio with musicians. Or through my songs.”

And there’s some great, compact history included by Kahn in his track-by-track notes, like this bit:

With Toussaint, no experience was wasted, not even a two-year stint in the military that began in 1963. In ’64, he took his army band into the studio and under the name of The Stokes recorded “Whipped Cream,” a snappy instrumental with a jaunty horn line and a distinctive trumpet lead. Herb Alpert jumped on the melody a year later for the Tijuana Brass, recording it note-for-note, creating a hit single, a memorable album cover and a theme song for the TV sensation The Dating Game.

Toussaint talks about this in the DVD portion of “Songbook” (the CD documents two performances at Joe’s Pub, from 2009); he’ll also discuss it at Lincoln Center in a pre-concert interview with Nona Hendryx. Bill Bragin, who formerly programmed Joe’s Pub and who was responsible for Toussaint’s long residency there, produces this weekend’s Lincoln Center show. He formed a bond with the pianist as general manager of NYNO Records, which Toussaint founded in the 1990s with Joshua Feigenbaum. I’m sorry I’ll be out of town for this weekend’s performance and interview. But I’m about to dig into this new release, and I’m sure to speak at length with Toussaint about it.

Photo: Glade Bilby II




Allen Toussaint's SONG BOOK


               Allen Toussaint's New Live Solo Album/DVD, Songbook

Allen Toussaint will release, Songbook, a live solo album and DVD on September 24, 2013 via Rounder Records. The album and accompanying DVD include a total of twenty-five songs recorded live over two Fall 2009 performances at Joe's Pub in New York City. The DVD also includes a twenty-five minute in-depth interview with Allen conducted by producer and longtime friend, Paul Siegel. The new album embodies a meaningful concert setting for Allen, as the celebrated venue became his home base for performing after being displaced from New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. Songbook follows Allen's 2010 Grammy-nominated album The Bright Mississippi.



New Orleans Music Legend Allen Toussaint Reveals Songbook; Solo Set On CD And DVD To Be Released On Rounder September 24, 2013 DVD Includes In-Studio Interview

July 3, 2013: On September 24, 2013, Rounderwill release Allen Toussaint's Songbook, featuring performances of twenty five of Toussaint's songs captured on CD and DVD. The album and accompanying DVD were recorded over two nights in the fall of 2009 at venerable New York City nightspot Joe's Pub. The DVD includes an in-depth interview with Toussaint, conducted by producer (and longtime friend)Paul Siegel.

The Rounder release will offer a deluxe version which will include a CD with 25 songs and a 90-minute DVD that features the second of two live performance filmed at Joe's Pub in September 2009, plus a 25-minute studio interview; and a standard CD that offers 12 of Toussaint's classic compositions interpreted by the legendary songsmith himself.

The list of those who have benefited in one way or another from Allen Toussaint's touch is staggering in its historic and stylistic range, stretching from the late 1950s to the present day, with no end in sight. His studio productions have sold millions of discs and downloads. His catalog of songs has generated hits on the pop, R&B, country and dance charts, and many remain on heavy rotation in various radio formats. His tunes continue to pop up as TV themes and advertising jingles. He has an ever-growing international circle of fans, and though previously reluctant to tour, in recent years he's become a more familiar figure at music festivals and popular nightclubs around the world.

Though Toussaint has begun to travel far and wide as of late, he never stays away from New Orleans for long - and his music never does. In so many ways, his enduring career -- as this collection so vividly illustrates -- serves as an ongoing tribute to the city of his birth.

In the last fifteen years, Toussaint has experienced a growing resurgence of activity and recognition. Since '96, he's recorded seven albums and collaborated with the likes of Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton. He's been Grammy® nominated and inducted into a number of Halls of Fame. He's been sampled by such hip-hop heavyweights as O.D.B., Biz Markie, KRS One and OutKast, and appeared nationally on TV and radio - often on the urging of such longtime fans as Paul Shaffer and Harry Shearer, and most recently on the HBO series Treme.

With a honed sense of dry humor, Toussaint calls 2005's Hurricane Katrina his booking agent, crediting the storm for rebooting his career as a performer after flooding him out of home and studio. In order to recover - financially, musically, spiritually - Toussaint relocated to New York City and began to perform solo concerts, using Joe's Pub on Lafayette Street as a home base. Buoyed by a groundswell of support, he worked at something that years of success in the studio had allowed him to avoid: getting truly comfortable on the stage by himself, laying claim to his own songs.

Modesty had a lot to do with it; Allen Toussaint still is not the first person one would go to for information on Allen Toussaint. "I'm not accustomed to talking about myself," he once explained during a gig, "I talk in the studio with musicians. Or through my songs."

But over time, Toussaint developed his act - resurrecting material he hadn't touched in years, taking chances and improvising on established melodies, weaving personal anecdotes into his stage patter. He laced his music with memories of street characters and soul sisters, funky clubs and big-time successes. His show became his story, and his story came together and began to flow - which brings us to the musical treasure before you.

The what, when and how of this collection is comprehensively explained by its creator Paul Siegel - a veteran video producer, and lifelong enthusiast of Toussaint's work. As this DVD is an important historical document and an overdue personal testament from a musical genius to his fans, it also stands as a tribute to Siegel's passion for a man who - like too many of New Orleans's heroes - often evades the national radar.

Nearly eight years after Katrina, New Orleans continues to recover, and Toussaint has returned permanently to the city he never truly left. Give him the heat and the humidity, the spice and the rice, the funky sound of a Second Line and the cool feel of a southern night. "I apologize," Toussaint sings, "to anyone who can truly say that he has a found a better way."

*Abridged, from notes by Ashley Kahn, May 2013


1. It's Raining 
2. Lipstick Traces 
3. Brickyard Blues 
4. With You In Mind 
5. Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further? 
6. Sweet Touch of Love 
7. Holy Cow 
8. Get Out My Life, Woman 
9. Freedom for the Stallion 
10. St. James Infirmary 
11. Shrimp Po Boy (Dressed) 
12. Soul Sister 
13. All These Things 
14. We Are America/Yes We Can 
15. Optimism Blues 
16. Old Records Certain Girl Medley: Certain Girl/Mother-in-Law/Fortune Teller/Working in a Coal Mine 
17. New Orleans Thing 
18. Crawfish, Everyday 
19. No Place Like New York 
20. Southern Nights 

1. It's Raining 
2. Lipstick Traces 
3. Brickyard Blues 
4. With You In Mind
5. Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further? 
6. Sweet Touch Of Love 
7. Holy Cow 
8. Get Out My Life, Woman 
9. St. James Infirmary 
10. Shrimp Po Boy (Dressed) 
11. Soul Sister 
12. All These Things 
13. We Are America/Yes We Can 
14. Old Records 
15. Lover Of Love 
16. Certain Girl Medley: Certain Girl/ Mother-in-Law/ Fortune Teller/ Working In A Coal Mine 
17. New Orleans Thing 
18. Crawfish, Everyday 
19. No Place Like New York
20. Southern Nights 
21. Freedom For The Stallion



John Fogerty featuring Allen Toussaint

John Fogerty will make his Vanguard Records debut on May 28th with the release ofWrote a Song for Everyone. It’s his ninth solo album, and first since 2009′s The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.


The album finds Fogerty reworking his celebrated catalog alongside an array of guests, including Foo Fighters (“Fortunate Son”), My Morning Jacket (“Long As I Can See the Light”), Dawes (“Someday Never Comes”), and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello (“Wrote a Song for Everyone”). Also included are two all-new compositions titled, “Mystic Highway” and “Train of Fools”.

Fogerty will support the album with an appearance at this year’s SXSW followed by an as-yet-announced tour.

Wrote A Song For Everyone Tracklist:
01. Fortunate Son (with Foo Fighters)
02. Almost Saturday Night (with Keith Urban)
03. Lodi (with Shane Fogerty and Tyler Fogerty)
04. Mystic Highway (John Fogerty solo)
05. Wrote a Song for Everyone (with Miranda Lambert feat. Tom Morello)
06. Bad Moon Rising (with Zac Brown Band)
07. Long As I Can See the Light (with My Morning Jacket)
08. Born on the Bayou (with Kid Rock)
09. Train of Fools (John Fogerty solo)
10. Someday Never Comes (with Dawes)
11. Who’ll Stop the Rain (with Bob Seger)
12. Hot Rod Heart (with Brad Paisley)
13. Have You Ever Seen the Rain (with Alan Jackson)
14. Proud Mary (with Jennifer Hudson feat. Allen Toussaint and the Rebirth Brass Band)


John Fogerty had for years taken the notion of a "solo" album literally -- sequestering himself in a studio and playing all the instruments. But those days, it seems, are long over.

“The real way to make music is with other people,” said the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman on Thursday at a listening party for his upcoming collection of collaborations, Wrote a Song for Everyone. “Sharing it by yourself really sucks; you need to share it with others.

Featuring big-name acts updating CCR classics, along with a couple from his solo career and two new songs, the album is a solid addition to an accomplished career. And it's no wonder -- just take a look at the guest list: Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Foo Fighters, My Morning Jacket, Jennifer HudsonAllen Toussaint, Dawes and Zac Brown Band. 

“I really have loved this project, and I really love all these artists,” Fogerty said in front of a small crowd of invited guests at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. “It’s maybe the best thing I’ve ever done as far as making a record.”




Joan Osborne's Bring It On Home


"This is the song my seven-year-old daughter picked as her favorite; Aaron Comess and Richard Hammond laid down the perfect fun groove, and the rest of us were free to dance on top of it" - Joan 



If the name seems vaguely familiar, you might be remembering the giant pop smash hit of 1996, “One Of Us,” in which Joan Osborne sold America on the concept of envisioning the Deity as an ordinary Joe riding the bus trying to make His way home after a hard day’s work. The single was a bit more earnest-sounding than the rest of her material, and nothing she did thereafter came close to grabbing the public’s ear.

By 2001, Osborne had decided to quit reaching for the brass ring of stardom, and instead began concentrating on her love of American roots music. She produced Speaking In Tongues, a tour de force of blues, soul, and gospel by the Holmes Brothers. She appeared in the classic documentary film Standing In The Shadows of Motown, and toured with the Funk Brothers, the musicians who played on so many Motown hits. Osborne’s own records found her covering rock (Jimi Hendrix, the Band), soul (Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder), and country (Kris Kristofferson, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett).

Joan Osborne's Bring It On Home

The obvious next move is to make a blues album, and that’s what we’ve got here in Bring It On Home, a collection of 12 songs from a wide range of blues and R&B sources. The liner notes indicate that she and co-producer/guitarist Jack Petruzzelli spent a lot of time digging up songs from each other’s record collections, looking for material that Osborne could turn into something much more than a reverential cover. If most of the winners were songs she hadn’t been familiar with before the process began, so much the better for keeping her focused on presenting her own interpretations.


Shoorah! Shoorah!

Speaking of great singers from St. Louis, Osborne then tackles “Game Of Love,” a deep catalogue track from Ike and Tina Turner in the early 1970s. This soul strutting manifesto allows Osborne, like Tina, to declare that she can give as good as she gets in the two-timing scenario. John Mayall’s gorgeous and nearly forgotten “Broken Wings” gives Osborne the chance to whip up a fiercely dependant sympathy for the beaten-down love of her life, and benefits from a genuinely spine-tingling yet simple guitar line by either Petruzzelli or Andrew Carille.

If this were released on LP, it would be a good move to flip the record over here, even though only 5 of 12 songs have elapsed. That’s because “Shoorah! Shoorah!,” a gem performed originally by Betty Wright, and penned by the incomparable Allen Toussaint, sounds like it’s time to begin the party all over again. With Toussaint himself tickling the ivories in the band, Osborne has a great time with the elastic rhythms and sparkling hook-filled melody of this one.





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