Friday, February 06, 2009

GRAMMY Sound Stage: Allen Toussaint

I'll be honest - I didn't know much about Allen Toussaint before I arrived. I had some basics in tow: he was a musician, writer, producer, arranger and a fundamental (and legendary) figure in New Orleans R&B.

Despite a lack of music knowledge depth, I was sure I was going to have a great time because -
1) It was a GRAMMY Sound Stage event, and
2) How can the writer of "Working in the Coal Mine" and songs like "Get Out of My Life, Woman" and "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" not be fun?

Good thing I have good instincts for the obvious.

Similar to my last outing at the GRAMMY Museum, the museum's Executive Director Robert Santelli began with a one-on-one sit-down conversation. As Santelli began to ask Toussaint questions from a linear perspective - from childhood and onward - I began to really appreciate even moreso that I attended the Jazz Talk event featuring Charlie Haden.
Though both artists exist in the same time frame and are geniuses in their own right, each have such specific stories to tell - different people that they've encountered, music that has inspired them, life experiences that have shaped their music and thinking and decisions. You can't compare the two artists, but having attended both conversations, my picture of that living history is just illuminated.

My favorite detail revealed by Toussaint? He learned to play piano by ear when he was young, learning songs off the radio with the belief that all piano players knew all the songs and he had a lot of catching up to do.

Santelli also focused much of his interview on a major influence in Toussaint's life - New Orleans. And given the last few years of hearing so much about post-Katrina New Orleans, it was just a great experience to hear a voice so much connected to the lively aspects of that city's soul.

Allen Toussaint's musical performance following the interview was probably one of the best moments I've ever encountered. He began with a random medley of songs ranging from classical to funky to piano lesson practice songs. He ended with a musical backstory to "Southern Nights". He told a tale of his youth as a young city boy brought to visit his relatives in the wide, open spaces of the country. It was a peaceful lull where somewhere in the middle of that story, you were there too. Then the story became the song and you knew exactly why that song came to life.

How many places in LA can you experience that?

Allen Toussaint will be performing this weekend on the GRAMMY Awards telecast - February 8th, 2009 at 8 pm ET/PT on CBS. Word has it, there's a special guest involved. There's more GRAMMY Week events at the GRAMMY Museum too.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

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