Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RIP Allen Toussaint

"Everything I Do Is Gonh Be Funky From Now On" /
Allen Toussaint

So much going on in this sad old world these days -- but I cannot let the death of our national treasure Allen Toussaint pass without paying a few words of respect.

Here he is, performing the above-referenced song, with a lovely bit of stage patter to explain where the song came from...

Elegance is the word I think of when I think of Allen Toussaint. Tall and thin, with a distinguished touch of gray at the temples, every time I saw him he was dressed in a well-cut suit, crisp shirt, silk tie, pocket square, cuff links, the whole bit (I can attest to the cufflinks because he had a habit of shooting his cuffs as he sat down to play). Sure, one of those times he was also wearing sandals -- with black dress socks -- but this guy had so much style, he could even carry that off.

Moving with the sort of perfect posture my piano teacher always demanded from me (and never got), Toussaint strolled across the stage like some kind of diplomat, in no hurry, smiling a eye-crinkling smile of amused forbearance (think Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty). He settled onto that piano bench like a pro golfer casually swinging a nine-iron, so cool, so relaxed. And then he lifted his beautiful, supple hands and dropped them on the ivories like it was the easiest thing in the world -- still smiling, torso barely moving, but the notes just pouring out, rippling, dancing, as if he'd simply bewitched the piano into playing three notes for every key he struck. The complete opposite of the Jerry Lee Lewis school of sweat-pouring manic piano playing.

Well, there's not much to say about this particular song that you can't get from the title. It's kind of like that fantabulous Archie Bell and the Drells song, "Tighten Up" -- it just is what it is. "Jus' a be myself, do my thang, / A little soul can't do no harm. . . " -- a declaration of independence for the funky beat, if you will. The guitar twangs, the drums whomp, the Crescent City horns toot, the backing singers testify.

"Some may say that I've got no class / But I'm doing what I wanna do / So groove with me if you can / Or just do what you can do / Aw shhhhhhh---ucks." I can just imagine the knowing grin on his face as he sings that.

What more is there to say, anyway? Allen Toussaint was the epitome of grace, and a lesson to us all.