The New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint (January14, 1938 – November 10, 2015) wasn’t widely known to most popular music fans. Instead, he was what we can call a “musician’s musician,” a music-industry insider who heavily influenced the songs that eventually get to the public’s consciousness but without himself becoming a household name.
We generally associate cities like Memphis with the early days of rock and roll (because of the Sun Records/Elvis connection). But New Orleans played it’s part too, with it’s characteristic “swampy” rhythmic feel and virtuoso piano playing that was so much a part of that tradition. Allen Toussaint was brought up in this environment and caught the attention of both the British and American rockers in a big way. His songs were covered by artists such as The Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, and Robert Palmer. The sounds of his song “Java,” (a #1 hit in 1964 by trumpeter Al Hirt) have become a part of our pop culture heritage. (Have a quick listen; you’ll probably recognize it without knowing exactly where you’ve heard it before.)
Allen Toussaint spent much of his professional life in the recording studio, producing albums for everyone from Paul McCartney to The Pointer Sisters, and only reluctantly began touring in his later years. He eventually embraced his live performances as a way to “bring New Orleans” to everywhere he went. I love this concert video where he and his band play in a raw, “unfiltered” New Orleans style. Watching this performance makes me feel that he really kept that musical tradition alive by bringing it to the world through his songwriting and producing, bit-by-bit and a little at a time.
If you want to get acquainted with a great pianist who influenced decades of pop music in a positive way, check out some Allen Toussaint. The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find!
If you’re like me and play piano in many musical styles, you’ll enjoy my piano improv video course. It’ll keep you motivated and inspired for quite some time!