Archive for November, 2015

Allen Toussaint, the legendary songwriter and pianist, has died

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Allen Toussaint, the ever-elegant New Orleans performer, producer and composer of such R&B classics as “Working in the Coal Mine,” “Mother-in-Law,” “It’s Raining” and “Southern Nights,” died Tuesday (Nov. 10), while on tour in Madrid. He was 77 years old.

Fans have reason to be shocked by the news because tickets went on sale just days ago for a concert featuring Mr. Toussaint and fellow composer and performer Paul Simon at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in New Orleans on Dec. 8. The event was to benefit the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness charity organization, which Mr. Toussaint co-founded in 1985.

Considered by many to be the dean of the New Orleans music scene, having influenced the careers of countless musicians and performers, Mr. Toussaint gave his last performance on Monday at Madrid’s Teatro Lara. Madrid emergency services spokesman Javier Ayuso said rescue workers were called to Mr. Toussaint’s hotel early Tuesday morning and managed to revive him after he suffered a heart attack. But Ayuso said Mr. Toussaint stopped breathing during the ambulance ride to a hospital and efforts to revive him again were unsuccessful.

Mr. Toussaint, who helped to define the New Orleans sound as a songwriter and composer, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2013, he received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

“He was like a one man Motown,” said Quint Davis, president of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans and the producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, at which Mr. Toussaint regularly performed. “There was that period of time with Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas where he wrote, produced, played on a whole era of New Orleans music, a lot of which went national.

“He was all of those things, a composer, a songwriter, an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a studio producer — brilliant. And in last few years, he really adopted playing live for people.”

Despite international renown, Mr. Toussaint was a regular sight in the Mid-City and Gentilly neighborhoods in years past. He was known for his stately posture, unhurried speech, elegant suits, sandals with socks, and a Rolls Royce marked with license plates that read “Piano” and “Tunes.”

“He was his own living art form, the way he dressed, like somebody from another era, century, always had some incredible combination of jacket and shirt and tie,” Davis said of Mr. Toussaint’s personal style. “Always. He was a living piece of art. The tie and the shirt was a poem every time.”

Mr. Toussaint was born in 1938 in the Gert Town neighborhood, to Clarence Toussaint and Naomi Neville. By his mid-teens, he was honing his driving, dancing piano style as he stepped into the New Orleans R&B nightclub scene. New Orleans musical lore has it that Mr. Toussaint substituted for Huey “Piano” Smith at a performance with Earl King’s band when he was a mere 17 years old.

The consummate composer, arranger and accompanist, Mr. Toussaint spent most of the 1960s behind the scenes at Minit Records and other recording companies. New Orleans and national performers made a string of his tunes famous.

The Irma Thomas ballad “It’s Raining” was composed by Mr. Toussaint under his mother’s name. He wrote Ernie K-Doe’s Billboard chart-topping song “Mother-in-Law,” Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine,” and Benny Spellman’s “Fortune Teller.”

“One thing I can say about him, is he helped a lot of people in this town,” said New Orleans singer and guitarist Deacon John Moore. “He was a scholar and gentleman. I don’t know where they would be if he hadn’t written those songs. I see him and I say, ‘I can never thank you enough for making me a part of rhythm and blues history. That’s something they can’t take away from me.'”

Moore affectionately recalls that, even at an early age, Mr. Toussaint was well aware of his image.

“He had a tomato-red Cadillac convertible, double parked outside of the Dew Drop inn” Moore said. “He was rather flamboyant. He was a real sharp dresser, always Mr. GQ, with nice clothes, expensive clothes.”

Mr. Toussaint took a hiatus from his burgeoning career in 1963 to serve in the armed forces, but his momentum was uninterrupted. In 1964, trumpet maestro Al Hirt covered Toussaint’s jaunty instrumental “Java,” which became a No. 1 hit. In 1965, Mr. Toussaint’s “Whipped Cream” not only became the title track on a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album, it later became the bachelorettes theme of the television game show “The Dating Game.”

The 1970s saw the emergence of the singer-songwriter, and Mr. Toussaint stepped into the spotlight with two solo albums “From a Whisper to a Scream” and “Southern Nights,” which showcased his mellow, whispered vocals and keyboard command. The records were marvelous though little heard by mainstream music lovers. Some of the songs, however, became hits when covered by pop stars, including Mr. Toussaint’s strange, psychedelic “Southern Nights,” which became a country rock anthem when recorded by Glen Campbell. Mr. Toussaint’s plangent “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” became a rollicking finger-snapper for Boz Scaggs.

Originally published on

Trombone Summit III at NCCU

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, the NCCU Trombone Summit II will feature Clifton Anderson and Robert Trowers.

The workshop / open discussion will be held in the B.N. Duke Band Room at 1:30 p.m. The concert will be held in the B.N. Duke Auditorium at 7 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public. Suggested donation for concert is $5.

For more information, call Dr. Ira Wiggins, 919-530-7214 or Robert Trowers, 919-530-7217.

NCCU Jazz Studies Program Presents Benefit Concert

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

North Carolina Central University’s Jazz Studies Program presents Keep The Vision Alive, a Nov. 22 concert featuring award-winning Department of Music artists-in-residence Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo.

The benefit concert begins at 6 p.m. at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham and will include performances by the NCCU Jazz Ensemble and NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

Marsalis is a three-time Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, composer, bandleader and music educator who began his jazz career in 1984 with the release of his first album, Scenes in the City. He is well known for his work as leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet and as the original bandleader for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” In 2002, Marsalis established his record label Marsalis Music. He has been an artist-in-residence with NCCU’s jazz program since 2005.

NCCU artist-in-residence and jazz pianist Joey Calderazzo began playing at age seven. His outstanding jazz career includes work with the Michael Brecker Quintet, the Branford Marsalis Quartet and others. In June 2011, Calderazzo and Marsalis released their first album as a duo, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy,” on Marsalis Music.

NCCU was the first university in the state to offer the Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies. The program has added a comprehensive vocal jazz component and the Master of Music in Jazz Composition and Jazz Performance. Alumni from the Jazz Studies Program include professors at the college and university levels, teachers of primary and secondary music education and production and performance artists.

Tickets for this exciting night of music may be purchased online at or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

For more information, please contact: Dr. Ira Wiggins at [email protected] or 919-530-7214 and Dr. Lenora Helm Hammonds at [email protected] or 919-530-6653.

Darrell Grant

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Born in 1962 in Philadelphia, Darrell Grant moved to Denver as a young child. Starting piano lessons before his teens, Grant was a prodigy and at the age of 15 joined the Boulder, CO-based Pearl Street Jazz Band, a young but internationally renowned traditional New Orleans-style combo. Pearl Street Jazz Band toured worldwide and Grant was with the group for two years.

At 17, Grant won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He focused on performance studies over theory, which he covered in his graduate studies in jazz theory and composition at the University of Miami.

Relocating to New York in the mid-’80s, Grant took on a series of low-profile sideman gigs. After a long stint playing with Betty Carter, Grant worked with luminaries like Chico Freeman and Greg Osby before finally stepping out as a bandleader for the first time.

His first release, 1994’s Black Art was well-reviewed and sold respectably, and the following year’s The New Bop was an even bigger critical success.

The title sums up his simultaneously backward-looking and forward-thinking aesthetic. Grant is steeped in the traditions of bop and post-bop jazz, and a cerebral, Bill Evans-like edge to his soloing that suggests a working knowledge of 20th century classical composers as well. All of these influences combine into a style that’s solidly traditional and is uniquely individual.

1997’s Twilight Stories was released on Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz label; Grant’s appearance on that label, devoted primarily to classic reissues, cemented the esteem in which bop devotees hold him.

Grant’s Smokin’ Java, included his first published piece of prose, a thinly veiled autobiography about the cross-country move of a jazz pianist from New York to the Pacific Northwest. The lighthearted, twisty compositions reflect the bright, tongue-in-cheek tone of the short story, for which the album functions as a suitably caffeinated soundtrack.

The ambitious double-disc suite called Truth and Reconciliation appeared from Origin Records in 2007.

Darrell Grant is current on faculty at Portland State University.