Los Lobos performs “La Pistola y El Corazon” at New Orleans Jazz Fest

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One of the many beautiful things about Los Lobos is how, after so many decades, they can still turn on different audiences in different ways. One of America’s greatest roots-rock bands, “just another band from East L.A.” can take fans old and new through a tour of genres — Mexican or American folk, roadhouse blues, Louisiana swamp pop, or straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, you name it, they can play it, and leave ’em wanting more. Having seen them play in different venues over the past 20-plus years, I’ve marveled at how they can tailor their set to a given show, from an all-encompassing set that spans their four decades, a tight compilation that includes their few hits (“La Bamba,” anyone?), or something more precise.

That latter approach is what Los Lobos provided fans at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell on Friday (April 29) at the Sheraton Fais Do Do State. Playing off a 2014 tour that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Grammy Award-winning “La Pistola y El Corazon,” Los Lobos easily tore through that landmark work (an EP that clocks in at 25 minutes) while also delighting the audience with a range of other Mexican and Latin works — often introducing each one for a cultural context befitting a festival with the word “heritage” in the title. So instead of looking forward by showcasing their excellent new album, “Gates of Gold,” Los Lobos took a look back — way back.

There in a row stood the original members: Cesar Rosas (sporting his ubiquitous black shades), bassist Conrad Lozano on guitarron, Louie Perez, and David Hidalgo working his way through the guitar, the accordion and fiddle depending on his mood. Steve Berlin, a longtime member, remained frequently on the sidelines, occasionally popping out to add some beef with his massive, silver baritone saxophone.

For a 25-minute work of Latin folk, “La Pistola y El Corazon” covers a lot of ground, dipping at various times into conjunto, mariachi, Tex-Mex and Chicano rock at any given moment — every song feeling distinct and fresh from the other. Part of that is due to the dual threat of Rosas and Hidalgo trading lead on both guitar and vocals. This is where they have to each trim down their repertoire, Rosas shelving his passion for roadhouse blues and Hidalgo refraining from some of his more ruminative folk colorings. And yet they still breathe new life into vocal moment.

This is where their instruments serve them well, for if nothing else, Los Lobos could possibly be America’s greatest acoustic act — Hidalgo strumming his sturdy requinto jarocho when not on fiddle or accordion, Rosas plucking his huapanguera, and Perez sometimes furiously attacking “Howard,” his trusty six-string jarana. When they were all in full strum, the crowd practically swooned, especially on such memorable versions of “El Gusto,” “El Canelo” and the title track.

It became so blissful, the band holding the audience so easily in their hands, that when they broke into a more traditional version of “La Bamba” — which Richie Valens had compressed more accessibly into his 1958 hit — and the Cuban folk classic Guantamera (with Lozano taking his lone lead turn on vocals), it felt like Los Lobos were running up the score.

(Trivia: It should be noted that “La Pistola y El Corazon” was the band’s follow-up their amazing success performing “La Bamba,” and other Richie Valens tunes, for the movie soundtrack. While most fans and observers suggested they build on this rare moment of mainstream success, Los Lobos went in the completely opposite direction. Maybe this is why they failed this year to get voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

With barely an appreciation of the lyrics, it was easy to weep out of joy.

I watched as my wife swooned from song to song, caught up in an EP she had discovered years ago, in a department store of all places, and had spent the past couple weeks playing on a loop in anticipation of the show. I had proudly boasted of being the big Los Lobos fan in the household, but it was fun to sit back and watch her fall madly in love with this band on this, her second time seeing them live. The first time was more at a distance, on a double bill with Los Lonely Boys at an amphitheater outside Atlanta. This time was up close, practically at the barrier, behind other hardcore fans who’d camped out during the preceding set by the Honey Island Swamp Band to get into position. When her eyes weren’t closed, her face was beaming as Los Lobos strummed their way permanently into her heart.

Or corazon, if you will. As the opening of the song says (in English, anyway), “I don’t know how to tell you, don’t know how to explain that there is no remedy for what I feel inside.”

With Los Lobos, the only remedy is to keep rediscovering them, over and over again, in whatever way possible.

Listen: Elvis Costello remembers Allen Toussaint (podcast)

Elvis Costello on Allen Toussaint

There almost too many highlights to recall during the memorial service for New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint on Nov. 20, 2015, at the Orpheum Theater — not the least of which being the memories shared by other music legends. One after another, greats such as Jimmy Buffett, Boz Scaggs and New Orleans’ own Irma Thomas remembered the musician and the man.

And then there was Elvis Costello, whose post-Katrina collaboration with Toussaint, Grammy nominee “The River in Reverse,” is a cherished piece of audio healing around these parts. Costello, wearing one of his trademark fedoras, read simply from his script in recalling how he joined a cavalcade of other musicians seeking out wisdom from Toussaint like pilgrims.

“To me he seemed like an elegant prince out of history, gracious, generous, ever curious about what came next, but so modest,” Costello said. It should come as no surprise that Costello, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, should pen such a lovely tribute, so I’ll just post the audio and let you enjoy his seven-minute soliloquy.

His story about Toussaint’s natty attire is worth the listen alone, filled with vivid detail and knowing humor that had the audience laughing through the tears. I won’t spoil the moment. Enjoy for yourself.

Costello returns to New Orleans on Thursday (April 28) for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, performing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gentilly Stage. It also should be noted that on Friday, you might consider checking out “The Life and Music of Allen Toussaint,” with Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville, Renard Poche, Herman LeBeaux, and C. Reginald Toussaint, interviewed by Ben Sandmel. It’s at 1 p.m. at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage.

Todd Mouton: How the King of Zydeco christened Jazz Fest (book excerpt)

All star jam by Philip Gould 650w

From left to right: A who’s who of Cajun and Creole music – Cleveland Chenier, Dewey Balfa, Marc Savoy, Doug Kershaw and Clifton Chenier – are featured onstage together in this historic, previously unpublished Philip Gould photograph taken at a 1983 evening show on The Riverboat President during Jazz Fest. (Used by permission; all rights reserved.)

“Jazz Fest, like Clifton Chenier, came from humble beginnings,” says author Todd Mouton. “And in 1970, the King of Zydeco’s version of Creole culture was still very much a mystery to a lot of folks in the big city of New Orleans, as the interview transcription in this clip makes clear. At the same time, though, this brief passage also demonstrates the bridges that were being built between cultures at the very first incarnation of the now-enormous phenomenon known as The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.”

Mouton will be interviewed with Chenier’s son C.J. at 4 p.m. Friday (April 29) on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage at The Fairgrounds, and the author will sign books at noon Saturday (April 30) in the Book Tent at Jazz Fest. He’ll also be signing copies at Rock ’n’ Bowl during Sonny Landreth’s performances on Friday and Sunday nights. Complete details are available at waydowninlouisiana.com.

Mouton’s new book on the King of Zydeco includes profiles of numerous other south Louisiana artists and bands from BeauSoleil to Bonsoir, Catin, and it also includes 130 full-color images by two dozen photographers. Herewith is an excerpt exclusive: PopSmart NOLA.

todd-mouton-way-down-in-la-scanIn the fall of 1969, Clifton Chenier crossed the big pond with his trio to take part in the seventh annual American Folk Blues Festival tour. Photos from the trip show the accordionist, his rubboard-playing brother Cleveland Chenier, and drummer Robert St. Julien with blues greats Earl Hooker, Magic Sam, John Jackson, Juke Boy Bonner, Carey Bell, and “Whistling” Alex Moore.

First, though, the King of Zydeco helped christen the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. On Thursday, April 23, 1970, Chenier and his group were featured at the inauguration of what is now the mother of all professionally produced cultural celebrations. The four-day event featured four stages—Blues, Cajun, Gospel, and Street—and cost just three dollars to get in.

Jazz Fest producer George Wein had founded the Newport Jazz Festival and, with Pete Seeger and Theodore Bikel, co-founded the Newport Folk Festival. The debut New Orleans program promised “You’ll have the opportunity to explore a variety of musical experiences, folklore exhibits, the art of New Orleans and the great food of South Louisiana.” Creole succotash and Begue’s praline ice cream pie were on the menu. The location – Congo Square, now part of Louis Armstrong Park and the famed site where slaves were allowed to gather on Sundays to sing, dance, and play music – was steeped in cultural history.

At 3:30 on that Thursday afternoon, “Clifton Chenier’s Band” was part of a program called “The Musical World of French Louisiana” along with Adam and Cyprien Landreneau, Bois Sec Ardoin and sons, Ambrose Thibodeaux, and other artists. Co-emcee Dick Allen, curator of the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane, admitted he didn’t really know all that much about French music, so he passed the baton to “someone who’s come all the way from California, Chris Strachwitz, he’s the manager of Clifton Sha-nay’s band.”

“I think Clifton manages himself, he does a good job at it,” Strachwitz said. “I’m just a good friend of his, I record his records. And if you wanna get Clifton for a party, just look him up in the Houston, Texas, phone book, and he’ll be happy to come and play for you. . . . Last October we were in Europe together on a blues show and he finally got to Paris to speak his French, but here he is, with his own kind of French, Clifton Chenier!”

After some brief instrument line checks, Chenier addresses the crowd. “Well, they call me the Frenchman [laughs]. Eh toi! Whooo, we let the bons temps rouler, baby. I guess the boys ready. See this’s my brother on rubboard, Cleveland Chenier. And this my soul brother, Robert St. Julien, on drums. And I also have Big Butch on guitar. And also Jumpin’ Joe Morris on bass. So now I hope y’all enjoy our music, ’cause we gon’ try to sock it to ya. We gon’ first start with a lil’ boogie woogie first, then we gon’ get back to the French music, get the boys in action, you know.”


Todd Mouton

A swinging instrumental follows, and the accordionist explains that “Sometime you got ta kinda wake the boys up a little bit, cha know, shake ’em up a little.” “Release Me” and a great three-piece “Zydeco Est Pas Salé” follow, then Chenier says, “Thank you very much. You know, my home is Opelousas, Looziana, and uh, yeah, my hometown. The rest of the boys from Lafayette . . . Looziana, yeah. Well, we do a lot of traveling, and we enjoy our work, and we enjoy the people and everywhere we go, look like everybody havin’ a good time so we gonna play y’all’s a waltz this time. It’s a record by Ray Charles I recorded in French. ‘You Promised Me Love,’ but it’s in French, see.”


As was typical, his translation is anything but a duplication, and halfway through he says, “Maybe some uh y’all can’t understand French,” and switches to English.

Before his encore, Dick Allen attempts an interview.

Allen: “Is this what you call zy-DE-co?”

Chenier: “Zydeco.”

Allen: “Tell ’em what zydeco means.”

Chenier: “I told ’em once befo’, I’m ’onna tell ’em again, see. You know, do you eat snap beans?”

Allen: “Oh yeah.”

Chenier: “You sure?”

Allen: “I hope so.”

Chenier: “But you put salt in it?”

Allen: “Mm-hmm.”

Chenier: “Well, that’s what it is. No salt in your snap beans, zydeco est pas salé. You see, it’s just that simple, see. Zydeco est pas salé is no salt in my snap beans.”

Allen: “Well, what’s that got to do with music and dancing?”

Chenier: “Well, you see, where I come from they do the zydeco music. One them days, we gon’, we might get together and rig up somethin’ that I can bring some uh them real zydeco dancers down here and let you see how they used to dance in the olden time. Yeah. We’ll do that. You know, uh, right now, you look at the teenagers right now, if you look at them old people dance the real zydeco where I come from, that’s what’s comin’ back, see? . . . We gon’ let the good time roll in French.”

With that, the band charges through a half-French, half-English version of “Bon Ton Roulet.”

“Let Them Talk” at French Quarter Festival: Freedom of speech, with a little action

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Roddie Romero with Michael Tisserand. (Screen shot from NOLA.com)

Too often moments like the “Let Them Talk” series at French Quarter Festival are pitched as a “break from the heat” to “get away from the madness” and relax while cooling off in air-conditioned rooms and relaxing to the jib-jab of Louisiana musicians. On the surface, it’s true, but as music festivals like FQF and Jazz Fest become increasingly crowded and often jammed with people who seem there more for the scene than the music, it’s also great to find a safe space for authentic music appreciation.

And yes, it’s a great place to be an egghead. Because in conversations hosted by WWNO’s Fred Kasten and others Saturday and Sunday (April 9-10) inside the Old U.S. Mint, musicians get a chance to offer the context behind their music, while giving these sweet little unplugged performances to keep the music flowing.

This experience is no better illustrated than when Roddie Romero of the Hub City All-Stars gave an interview to author Michael Tisserand (my former editor at Gambit Weekly) at the 2014 FQF — particularly when he explained his love of the Bobby Charles swamp-pop classic “I Hope.” Romero has an interesting life story, which includes a deep love of Charles’ music, and here performs and discusses an achingly beautiful song.

(Watch: Roddie Romero performs and discusses “I Hope”)

I had to rush away after the interview and was so mad I missed Romero’s subsequent performance with the Hub City All-Stars that I counted the days till their 2015 set, which was brilliant.

The same experience could be said for Kasten’s 2014 interview with cellist Helen Gillet, one of the best imports to the Crescent City over the past decade because of her unique blending of the cello into local music while exploring her Belgian roots, as she did in her interview:

Other important things learned in the talk: She’s a “huge” Prince fan and is looking forward to his Essence Music Festival set; her brother (a drummer) got her hooked on harder rock musicians, such as Faith No More, and she wound up digging everything from Poison and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Whitney Houston, Madonna and of course the Beatles. On the classical music side, she loves Shostakovich and Baroque music in general. “Old, old-school, classical roll of the cello, which is just no vibrato,” she said. “Nothing fancy, just holding down the bass lines.”

(Watch: Helen Gillet performs and discusses “Le Petit Royaume”)

Check out this year’s “Let Them Talk” lineup below. My must-attend interviews: Mason Ruffner, Ellis Marsalis, Eric Falls and of course “From Southern Nights to Hall-of-Fame Heights: Remembering Allen Toussaint.”


 Saturday, April 9, 2016

11:30 am – Ronnie Kole: Reflections on a Vintage Life – Piano-man extraordinaire, bandleader, and wine connoisseur Ronnie Kole has – in his nearly 70 years as a professional musician – performed for the Pope, six U.S. Presidents, at major festivals around the world, and for select audiences of oenophiles at some of the most elegant chateaux in France. Ronnie Kole also helped get Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festival started – and has worked tirelessly for numerous civic and charitable organizations throughout his career. For Let Them Talk he’ll discuss this storied life with interviewer Fred Kasten.

12:30 pm – Bourbon Street Blues: Mason Ruffner and the Blues Rockers – Guitar-slinger Mason Ruffner rolled into New Orleans from his native Fort Worth in the late 70s. He set up shop on Bourbon Street at Club 544 where his band the Blues Rockers did hundreds of shows, backing such blues legends as John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Memphis Slim and winning praise from visiting musical superstars like Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Carlos Santana. Today Mason Ruffner talks about a life of rockin’ the blues with interviewer Fred Kasten.

1:30 pm – The New Orleans Helsinki Connection: Katja Toivola – Trombonist Katja Toivola – a native of Helsinki, Finland – first visited New Orleans in 1995 and now splits time between her two “hometowns”. She leads bands in both cities, The Spirit of New Orleans in Helsinki, and the New Orleans Helsinki Connection in the Crescent City. Toivola also plays in husband Leroy Jones’ New Orleans’ Finest band, handles bass drum duties for the Hurricane Brass Band, and does acclaimed work as a graphic designer and photographer. She’ll talk about her multi-faceted career with interviewer Fred Kasten.

2:30 pm – NEA Jazz Master Ellis Marsalis – When the Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band played New Orleans back in the late 1940s Ellis Marsalis, then a fledgling tenor saxophonist, was there and decided, “that’s what I want to do.” He went on to put the tenor sax away and concentrate on piano. He became one of the cornerstones of modern jazz in New Orleans as a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator. Four of his and wife Delores’ six sons: Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, also became innovative and accomplished contributors to modern music. For Let Them Talk, Ellis Marsalis will look back on his life in music and education – and ahead to his remaining musical ambitions – with interviewer Fred Kasten.

3:30 pm – From Radiators to Living Rumors: Camile Baudoin – For over 33 years powerhouse guitarist Camile Baudoin teamed with fellow guitar-slinger Dave Malone to deliver the legendary Radiators band’s trademark twin-guitar excursions. Since the Radiators essentially disbanded in 2011 (they still do a few reunion performances each year) Camile Baudoin has continued to work with Malone in Raw Oyster Cult and lead his own band, The Living Rumors. For Let Them Talk, Camile Baudoin looks back on nearly four decades on the New Orleans music scene with New Orleans Advocate music writer Keith Spera.

4:30 pm – Song for My Fathers and Beyond: Tommy Sancton – Novelist, journalist, memoirist, and clarinetist Tommy Sancton’s acclaimed 2006 memoir Song for My Fathers documented his apprenticeship with clarinet great George Lewis and other New Orleans jazz pioneers. Sancton returned to New Orleans in 2007 after many years abroad – mostly in Paris – and reestablished himself as a top-notch clarinetist and bandleader on the New Orleans scene. For Let Them Talk, Tommy Sancton discusses his parallel careers in writing and music with interviewer Fred Kasten.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

11:30 am – Miss River: Sarah Quintana – New Orleans singer, songwriter, and guitarist Sarah Quintana – has a background rich in jazz, folk, and popular music. She studied jazz at NOCCA with Kidd Jordan, Davey Mooney and Hank Mackie. In 2008 she began making trips to France (she also studied French at NOCCA) where she now spends considerable time working with saxophonist Raphael Imbert and his band. Quintana’s widely acclaimed 2015 release Miss River pays homage to the strength – and fragility – of Louisiana’s traditions and environment. For Let Them Talk she’ll discuss her twin careers in New Orleans and France with interviewer Fred Kasten.

12:30 pm – The Long and Winding Road: Bennie Pete and the Hot 8 Brass Band – In 1996 sousaphonist Bennie Pete brought together players from two former Fortier High School student bands – the High Steppers and Looney Tunes Brass Bands – to form the Hot 8 Brass Band. Over their 20 years together the Hot 8 has been hammered by tragedy, blessed by triumphs, and sustained by talent, resilience, and hard work. For Let Them Talk, Bennie Pete discusses the difficulties and rewards of leading a 21st Century brass band in New Orleans with author and Tulane University Associate Professor of Music Matt Sakakeeny.

1:30 pm – Saxophones of Ascension – Louisiana’s Ascension Parish has provided the world with at least two outstanding jazz saxophonists: Donaldsonville’s Plas Johnson (who created that irresistible tenor solo on Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther Theme) and Gonzales’ Grammy-winning Derek Douget. Douget is a long-standing member of the Ellis Marsalis Quartet, leader of his own bands, and current program coordinator for the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music programs operated by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc. For Let Them Talk he’ll discuss growing up in the “Jambalaya Capital of the World” (Gonzales) and his two decades plus on the jazz scene in New Orleans with interviewer Fred Kasten.

2:30 – From Southern Nights to Hall-of-Fame Heights: Remembering Allen Toussaint – When Allen Toussaint passed away in November 2015 while on tour in Spain, he left behind a Hall-of-Fame (Rock and Roll and Songwriters among others) legacy as a songwriter, producer, arranger, performer – and especially since Katrina – stalwart and effective advocate for New Orleans – as well as a man of infinite grace and style. For Let Them Talk, Grammy-winning record producer Scott Billington and an all-star panel – including another Grammy-winner – the great Irma Thomas; award-winning music journalist and biographer Ben Sandmel; bassist Roland Guerin – a long-time member of Allen Toussaint’s band; and Reginald Toussaint, who managed and performed with his father for over 25 yrs, will share Allen Toussaint stories and memories.

3:30 pm – Tighten Up: From Archie Bell to Astral Project – New Orleans Sax Ace Tony Dagradi – Saxophonist, composer and educator Tony Dagradi grew up in New Jersey, studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, then hit the road with Archie Bell and the Drells. That tour came through New Orleans and ended in Houston. Dagradi doubled back to New Orleans and has been here ever since. He founded Astral Project in 1978, and 38 years later they are still performing at a very high level. For Let Them Talk Tony Dagradi talks about a wide range of his musical interests and pursuits with interviewer Fred Kasten.

4:30 – Big Time Talent, Big Time Voice: The Steady Rise of Erica Falls – New Orleans vocalist Erica Falls is comfortable performing a wide range of genres – including rhythm and blues, soul, funk and jazz. She’s invested the last 20 years in demonstrating that talent by performing with such great artists as Joe Sample, Dr. John, Sting, Irma Thomas, Joss Stone and Gatemouth Brown – and increasingly in recent years fronting her own band – as she’ll do on the Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage at FQF. For Let Them Talk Erica Falls discusses her life in music with interviewer Fred Kasten.





With “Piety,” Michael Cerveris finds his way home to New Orleans

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Michael Cerveris and friends perform “Piety”
Friday, April 29, 8 p.m.
The Theatre at St. Claude
Tickets: $20

When Michael Cerveris went into the studio to create the 2004 album, “Dog Eared,” he did so with what felt like a who’s who of ’90s rockers, including members of Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices and Teenage Fanclub along for the ride. Twelve years on, Cerveris — once again taking a break from what has become a stellar Broadway career — is back with another moving collaborative effort.

But this time, the all-stars are from New Orleans, which Cerveris increasingly has embraced as his home even while continuing his Tony Award-winning work in “Fun Home.” The result is “Piety,” which features contributions from several of the New Orleans musicians who helped collaborate on the Katrina musical-in-progress “Nine Lives.”

When he made “Dog Eared,” he recalled, songs were recorded as musicians were available, “making this sonic house where all these people came to hang out.

“This is the New Orleans version of the same thing,” Cerveris said of the album, which includes such “Nine Lives” collaborators as Shamarr Allen, Paul Sanchez and Alex McMurray. “It’s true of how I like to work in theater, too. I sit and write songs in my apartment or house, and then record something, and my ideas only get me so far. I like handing it over to people and say, ‘Here’s the core, and respond to it in terms of what you hear. Play me what you hear when I play this for you.’

“I’m always excited to hear that (result), and that might spark an idea with me.”

Cerveris recently announced that he will reunite with many of the musicians for a live performance April 29 at The Theatre at St. Claude, co-owned by another “Nine Lives” collaborator, playwright Jim Fitzmorris. Expected to re-join Cerveris: Anders Osborne, Mia Borders, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Alex McMurray, Rod Hodges (the Iguanas), Linzay Young (Red Stick Ramblers) and old friend Kimberly Kaye, who also performs with Cerveris in their Americana band Loose Cattle. (She also worked on the latest script for “Nine Lives.”)

(Read more: Michael Cerveris at the Broadway @ NOCCA series)

“Piety” is an evocative, ruminative work that, not unlike “Dog Eared,” feels like a departure from the rock ’n’ roll creations that helped make Cerveris a rising musical-theater, whether in “Tommy” or “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

Instead, we hear echoes of Louisiana folklore in “Evangeline,” an eight-minute, acoustic opus flush with fiddle, banjo and even accordion that seem to float on air as Cerveris recalls Longfellow’s famed poem:

Knew so little when she learned of heartache /
Looking for him by another name /
All the ones that never were her Gabriel /
Making sure she never was the same

There’s also the restless spirit in “Crescent” and the closing “Phoenix,” a song of rebirth that can’t help but make one think of Hurricane Katrina even when it’s never explicitly mentioned, with former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason underscoring the closing words, “Wise up / Rise up / Rise and shine.”

The subtle stars of “Piety” might be the backing female vocals. With Cerveris content to underplay his own vocals, practically breathing his lines at times, a chorus rises underneath him, led by Kimberly Kaye and Kendall Meade and including “The Gospel Queens”: Edna M. Johnson, Bobbie Grant and Judy Gibbs.

Cerveris says he struggled at first to put a label on the musical style he was going for here, starting with the term chamber folk, “but that didn’t work.” Instead, he said, imagine “If Nick Drake and Elliott Smith made a record down South, this is what it would be.”

(Read more: John Swenson’s review of “Piety” for OffBeat)

If anything, as the title might suggest, “Piety” feels like an elegy to Piety Street Recording and its owner, Mark Bingham — the album’s legendary producer.

It’s also where they recorded the music for “Nine Lives,” and where Bingham prodded him for original material that he might have for a solo record. From there, the collaboration, years in the making, progressed. At that point, Cerveris noted, there was no inkling that Piety might close, which it since has — leaving behind a legacy of great recordings.

“I’ve been in some other great studios, but there are very few studios that had the soul that Piety Street did,” Cerveris said. “It seemed like a magical place from the time I got there. Mark spent equal time making sure the food was proceeding well on the stove at the same time that stuff was going down on tape. I found that significant and meaningful.

“I just love the place so much and wanted the album to be a footnote in the history of the place.”

He expressed the same love for Bingham behind the sound board: “He’s pretty ego-less as a producer. He’s more interested in the music than putting his own stamp on it. He really listens. He’ll offer his opinion, but also will listen to yours.”

While it was years in the making, “Piety” in Cerveris’ mind seems to have arrived at the right time. When he started making the record, he noted, he wasn’t as invested in his new home like he is these days. Now he owns a home in Treme and practically commutes from New York City whenever he can find a break from “Fun Home.

“My commit to the place is more solid and evident to people,” he said. “It’s being received as the New Orleans record that it is even though it’s not a traditional New Orleans record, but it’s representative of a broad vision of the city and the music scene, and certainly includes so many people from the music scene.”

LPO’s “Louie the Buoy” family concert lifts all spirits

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If you’ve got kids and haven’t yet attended one of the Louisiana Philharmonic’s Family Concerts, you owe to your family and yourself to go. Aimed at children but really a delight for everyone, the occasional series, held inside Loyola’s Roussel Hall, delivers themed concert programming under the vibrant direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto. He’s a performer unto himself, but more on that later.

This month’s concert (Sunday, Feb. 21) featured several familiar works wrapped around the world premiere of composer Tucker Fuller’s musical score set to children’s author Allain Andry’s popular book “Louie the Buoy: A Hurricane Story.” The score, vivid and inventive, worked over, under and around the words of the story, as read here by legendary New Orleans actress Carol Sutton.

There was a risk here: How can one narrate a children’s story set to music without one getting in the way of the other. Well, thanks to Fuller’s score, which captured the moods and rhythms of the story, and Prieto conducting Sutton like a seamstress threading a needle.

Fuller and Andry were in attendance, and all joined Sutton, Prieto and the LPO onstage for acknowledgments. This is where Prieto, who always takes breaks in the action to interact with the audience, really kicked into high gear. He missed his calling as a stand-up comic, and often keeps the crowd fully engaged with his explanations of the program. On an afternoon where kids are constantly brought into the mix — musicians (including LPO Associate Concertmaster Ben Hart) perform out in the halls before the show — Prieto loves to work the audience. He peppers kids in the audience with questions about the programming and the composers, and loves to keep it light and fun and funny.

But here he especially excited, as he recruited Andry’s two great-grandchildren to take turns conducting the orchestra for the final two pieces: Richard Strauss’ “Thunder and Lightning Polka” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The latter came with a command by Prieto for the audience to stand on their feet, clap to the beat, and belt out a round of “Who Dat?!”

The program opened with a rousing rendition of Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” and Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont.”

In the spirit of not missing this series, the next performance is “Adventures in Space!” on April 3.

Throwback Thursday: Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” conjures images of the Orpheum Theater’s vaudeville origins

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According to historical reports, when the Orpheum Theater opened for New Orleans fans on Feb. 7, 1921, the focus was on vaudeville.

“Jewel and fur clad women and dapper gentlemen filled the Orpheum Theater, New Orleans’ newest and most fashionable theater where ‘good taste reigned everywhere,’” one report said. “This auspicious evening’s main attraction was The Singer Midgets, who were to enter Hollywood immortality nine years later as the Munchkins of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

“A bit of incongruous perhaps with the ‘dressed-to-the-nines’ crowd, but this was the heyday of vaudeville and the Singer Midgets was a class act – and so was the Orpheum.”

Just under 85 years later, this is music to the ears of producer Trixie Minx and the Orpheum’s Kristin Shannon, who, over coffee inside the nearby Roosevelt Hotel, are giddy with excitement over the historic theater playing elegant host to “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a mix of variety acts that celebrates Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. While Minx has made her mark as a burlesque performer and producer — she literally performed on both the East Coast and West Coast when not in New Orleans over the course of 2015 — she is emphatic about extolling her vaudeville influences.

And while she is quick to note the vaudeville influences in her monthly, decade-old “Fleur de Tease” show at One Eyed Jacks, she wants people to think of “Cupid’s Cabaret” as a nod to those more purely vaudeville instincts.

“We want this event to be more than a show but an experience of what it was like to be in the Orpheum back then,” Minx said. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

I’ll have more on that take soon, but first I thought it would be fun to present a little “Throwback Thursday” of historic photos, courtesy of the Orpheum staff, to remember a time when it was the likes of the Singer Sisters and Al Jolson who ruled the stage and not the silver screen that came to dominate as the theater entered the middle of the 20th century.

More on the overall show; for now, enjoy this little trip down memory lane. For tickets and more information, click here.

Read more about the return of the Orpheum and other historic New Orleans theaters in my Biz New Orleans piece.

David Bowie’s pianist Mike Garson recalls 1972 Ziggy Stardust show in New Orleans

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UPDATE: Read Mike Garson’s interview with the Independent, and a survey of Bowie musicians (including Garson) in Quartz.

It was the summer of 1972, and David Bowie was riding high off the first leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour in his native England. But as he set his sights on the United States and the leg of a North America tour, he was one man short.

“When he came through America, he realized he needed a piano player, and he needed a piano player to play that music,” recalled pianist Mike Garson, who at the time was working his way through the jazz scene of New York City.

He’d just played on an album by vocalist Annette Peacock, called “I’m the One.” “She was pretty wild,” he said, noting the two shared an avant-garde sensibility that intrigued Bowie as he prepared for the tour.

Garson is recalling these memories during another in a series of phone interviews from his home in Los Angeles on the heels of news of Bowie’s sudden death Sunday (Jan. 10) at the age of 69. As Bowie’s longtime piano player, Garson remembers those early days well, though some details are sketchy. Hooking up with Bowie was easy to remember.

“He asked (Peacock) for a suggestion, she said, ‘This is the pianist to use,’” Garson said. “And that was it. They called me. I was living in Brooklyn at the time, giving a piano lesson. They told me to come to RCA’s studio in New York. I left my 1-year-old with my piano student. My wife almost killed me. And I went to this studio to audition for the band, and David, and, seven seconds after playing his song called ‘Changes, Mick Ronson (Bowie’s guitarist) said, ‘You have the gig.’ … Would you believe that?”

The North American leg of the tour started on Sept. 22, 1972, and found its way exactly two months later to the now-legendary Warehouse in New Orleans. (White Witch, a Tampa glam-rock band, was booked as the opening act and appears on a Beaver Production flyer, but their truck broke down on the way to New Orleans, a spokesperson said, and they arrived the day after the show.) Garson’s foggy on much of the specifics of that night, though he concedes the Warehouse might not have been as spiffy as the other U.S. venues that preceded the show — there were auditoriums, theaters, concert halls, etc. .. and then there was the Warehouse.

Filmmaker Jessy Cale Williamson captured the iconic nature of that rock venue in his 2013 documentary, “A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas.” When I reached him about the Bowie show, he vaguely recalled, “I think a few people mention the show but there isn’t a segment dedicated to it. If I remember correctly, someone said the rednecks didn’t like it and were booing and cursing. But I don’t think I put that in the film. I tried to keep it upbeat.”

Garson doesn’t remember much about the show, either. What he does remember, as so many do, was the music and the food he enjoyed. (Mick Ronson apparently knew his way around New Orleans restaurants.) But Garson got a bird’s eye view of New Orleans music during his brief stay there — which is also famous for being the city in which Bowie wrote the lyrics for the song “Time” that appeared on his next album, “Aladdin Sane.”

“I loved that tour and I especially love New Orleans because I have a specific memory of, when we weren’t playing, I went into some of those clubs and just sat in with some of those Dixieland bands and played some of that music with them,” Garson said. “So that was a thrill for me. And the inspiration for ‘Time’ I would suspect would’ve come from there. I was there, and he was writing that music through that whole tour and being affected by every city we went to.

“There could’ve been no better place to help inspire that version of the song for me, and for me to utilize all those ragtime elements from New Orleans in the ’20s and ’30s, and put a little avant-garde twist on it, which was part of my personality for that album.

“I didn’t even remember the names of the places we played. It becomes like one big concert in the sky or something after you play 5,000 shows,” he added. “I do remember the feeling playing there was great. I just remember sitting in these clubs and playing with these jazz musicians, which was trained to do.

“I totally adored it, you know?”

Some Internet sites also cite a Nov. 14 show at Loyola, which probably would have been performed at the Field House on Freret Street, but Loyola officials cannot confirm this date. My personal theory: It had been scheduled, and for some reason canceled — hence, a possible Nov. 22 “make-up” New Orleans date at the Warehouse. When I asked Garson, he replied, “I wouldn’t swear to it, but my recollection was one concert (in New Orleans).”

After the tour concluded, Bowie set his sights on his next album, and wanted to bring his new sideman into the studio in London to record “Aladdin Sane.” But the two were still feeling each other out, even after the Ziggy Stardust tour. For the title track, Bowie had a very particular idea about how he wanted the piano to sound, and so he pressed Garson to show him what he could do in the studio.

“My first solo was a blues solo and he said, ‘Naaah,’ the second one was Latin, and he said, ‘Naaah. Play that crazy stuff that you told me you play in New York in the jazz scenes,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure? That’s why I’m not working Saturday nights.’ And he said, ‘Leave that to me.’

And so Garson played his avant-garde style, and Bowie was convinced. Getting Garson into the zone for “Time,” which Bowie had written in New Orleans, was a much easier chore, given his sensibilities and love of New Orleans’ piano tradition. It’s one that spoke to the kind of cabaret, Brechtian feel Bowie wanted and Garson could deliver on along with everything else — including the “stride” style popularized by some New Orleans piano professors but also the great James P. Johnson.

“Well, I knew David liked that kind of stuff, so, I have a fairly wide palate of music that I have loved, so I just sort of went back into those archives of my mind and brought that to it so it had the avant-garde-ness, it had the stride-ness, and it had the Brechtian, and I think that made David very happy,” Garson said. “But it was all very organic. We didn’t even talk about it that way; it’s just how it evolved, you know?

“Once I heard the song, it was so obvious this is what had to happen with this piece of music.”

Garson has a clearer New Orleans memory: performing alongside the great jazz trumpeter  Freddie Hubbard at the 1988 Jazz & Heritage Festival, and later dining at a restaurant that stayed open until 1 a.m. to accommodate his party. As for those New Orleans piano professors, he said: “It’s Allen Toussaint, it’s Dr. John, it’s Harry Connick. It’s all those people, there’s something about that feeling and that kind of way of playing the piano that was inspiring to me when I was growing up.

“I’ve given over 11,000 private lessons in the last 50 years and I suspect I’ve given more lessons in how to play in those styles than any other kind of music that I teach.”

Garson said Bowie never discussed his songwriting technique, on “Time” or any other, so it’s hard to guess how the lyrics, written in New Orleans, came about. But they did speak to what critics and even Bowie himself admitted in terms of his complicated perception of the United States as he moved through the tour and with his bandmates, the “Spiders from Mars.” He often referred to the album as “Ziggy goes to America,” and he often seen alternately repulsed by and fascinated with the country. All Mike Garson knew was, it was the beginning of an incredibly fertile relationship between the two men.

“I was hired for that tour and only that tour. So I was hired for eight weeks and I end up the longest-playing musician with him who did the most albums and the most tours (with Bowie). Go figure,” said Garson, who was profiled in fellow piano player Clifford Slapper’s book, “Bowie’s Piano Man.”

“So I was on there having come playing from jazz clubs in New York City, I was treasuring every moment of it in every city because they were all wonderful concerts. And I, knowing it’s only eight weeks, was thinking this is going to be one of the greatest experiences in my life. And it turns out it is, but I had many, many more after that. So, coming from a jazz club or playing for 10 people and making five bucks, and then you’re playing for thousands of people in these cities all through the United States, driving in the limo with David, as he was writing these songs, as he’s listening to Aretha Franklin, as he’s listening to soul music, preparing even towards the ‘Young Americans’ album, no less the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album – this was miraculous.”

Looking back, it stuns him how easy it was to take it all for granted.

“When you’re in it and you’re in your 20s, you kind of think, ‘This is fun,’ but you’re too much of an idiot to realize that you’re doing something that will be historical. It was like, great gigs, they were fun, and it was more money than the jazz gigs that I did, but it was like a ‘big deal’ kind of thing.

“Now you look back and you wish you could be starting that tour tomorrow.”

NOTE: I’d love for folks who attended the Warehouse show in 1972 to share their memories of that night in the comments section, and to please help confirm this possible Nov. 14 show at Loyola. I doubt it did happen, but would be nice to confirm. I’m working with Loyola on this as well.

How Michael Cerveris, Tony winner, played for his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle

New Orleanians finally got a chance to see Michael Cerveris live and in person after the Treme resident had won the Tony Award (and continues to perform in) the musical “Fun Home,” with an appearance at the Broadway @ NOCCA series on Monday (Dec. 14) night. It was a laid-back, casual affair with Cerveris swapping stories with Seth Rudetsky in between performing songs from his vast two-decade career (with Rudetsky accompanying on piano).

Some of the stories he relayed also were referenced in an interview I conducted for my advance feature that ran in the New Orleans Advocate, which didn’t do justice for a facet of Cerveris’ career that deserves fuller explanation: his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It’s a life that, professionally speaking, started awkwardly enough playing a British wannabe rocker in the last season (1987) of the TV show “Fame,” but six years later kicked into high gear when he scored the title role of “Tommy” (which earned him a Tony Award nomination in this, his Broadway debut.

This is the first of a few crazy, rocking moments in this Broadway star’s life, which include playing as a sideman on indie rocker Bob Mould’s U.S. tour (and the U.K. leg of the European tour) in 1998, his replacing friend John Cameron Mitchell in Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” cranking out his own solo album, “Dog Eared,” in 2004, and his current side group Loose Cattle (based in New York). When I asked him how he saw these supposedly different lifestyles — the Broadway performer and the rock ‘n’ roller — Cerveris explained their common ground:

I think I’m just someone who is just trying to express himself. Someone might speak English to someone if they speak English because that’s how they understand it best. Or Spanish if the person listening is Spanish. In the same way, I guess I think of it as using the language of a particular style or genre to communicate in the way that will translate best to that particular audience, while the basic content remains unchanged. I think my job as actor and singer is to be a vessel for author and their intent. They create the genre they’re working in, and if it’s Pete Townshend, he’s telling it through rock and roll. John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, it’s though glam rock. Yet I kind of feel like I’m still saying the things I’m saying, it’s just translated through different things. I feel like my approach is kind of rock and roll even when I’m singing something more legit. I told Stephen Sondheim I think he is a rock-and-roll musical theater person. He looked at me like I had two heads when I said that. But I think that because of the fierceness in his music and the lack of … the disregard for the norm, maybe. Even in rock and roll, you’ve got Poison and Twisted Sister and Joy Division and the Sex Pistols and Pearl Jam and Creed, and they’re all considered rock and roll yet what they do is very different. The simple answer is, I feel like I’m doing the same thing with the same investment, whether singing Sondheim or Townshend. While I completely understand how it sounds and want it to sound authentic to the genre in which the writer is writing it, I don’t think of it as two different things. It’s telling a story and speaking truth on whatever pitches I’m given.

After spending several years working off-Broadway, Cerveris went out to Los Angeles for “Fame,” playing Brit rocker Ian Ware — a role he earned, he notes, partly due to nailing in the audition a version of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” After its cancellation, he wound up staying for several years — at a fertile time in the L.A. rock scene, while appearing in regional theater all along the Pacific Coast:

Because in Los Angeles, you are what you pretend to be, I went out there playing this British indie-rock guitar player on this TV show, so I was perceived as that. I hung out at the Scream Club and saw a bunch of bands. Jane’s Addiction, Guns ‘N Roses, all these guys were playing in the clubs. I was friends with all these musicians, but I had never taken myself seriously as a musician. I thought a musician was someone like my father, who was trained in classical music, musical theory, the craft. I was just a largely self taught guitar player. I still don’t really read music. But here I was with all these people. And while I was not the best guitar player, I realized I could play as well as that guy over there, and he’s got a four-record deal! So I figured I should stop letting my insecurities get in the way of playing music. L.A. was really kind of where I started becoming a songwriter. I was so lonely and out of synch with my environment. Eventually, five years later, I was in the middle of “Richard II” at the (Mark Taper Forum), starring Kelsey Grammer as Richard II. It was the same time as the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict. I had an audition one afternoon for this production of “Tommy” that someone wanted to do at the La Jolla Playhouse. I played that same David Bowie song and I guess it was lucky for me again. That’s what brought me to “Tommy” and brought me back to New York. During my time out west I did kind of fall off the map in some people’s minds. But that detour was how I wound up where I did. I read this Frank Rich review, wondering where Michael Cerveris had been. Well, I had been in New York for several years and no one seemed all that interested! He had even reviewed me in some off-Broadway things. It seemed like I had appeared out of nowhere. But I had been working for years downtown and in regional theater.

After earning a Tony Award nomination for Tommy, Cerveris signed on play the architect in the musical version of “Titanic,” an experience in which he went into great detail on Monday night, and, in our interview noted, he eventually left to go play rhythm guitar with former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould, “which is also not the usual career move,” he added with a chuckle. And so begins another rock ‘n’ roll odyssey.

While performing in “Tommy,” Cerveris went to go see Bob Mould perform at a club. Pete Townsend, with whom he’d become friends after “Tommy,” was in town and Cerveris convinced him to join him for the show. Once word got to the stage that the legendary Who guitarist was in the audience, Mould invited both of them backstage after the show. (“Bob is a huge Who fan, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,” he said.) Slowly, Cerveris and Mould became friends, with Mould even sitting in with Cerveris’ band at the time at a show after Mould and his partner had moved to Brooklyn.

Upon completion of his “The Last Dog and Pony Show” album, Mould asked Cerveris if he’d be interested in play rhythm guitar for a European tour, which at first Cerveris took as an off-hand remark but Mould was serious. “‘My music’s not rocket science,’“ Cerveris recalls Mould telling him. “So that’s how that happened.”

Unfortunately, a dream gig soured fairly early on for Cerveris:

I woke up every day on that tour as the happiest guy to be on that stage. But it was a tough tour. He was disconnecting from his label. Had taken it on as an obligation to the label. He became increasingly frustrated. I became the place where a lot of that frustration got placed. He’d never played with a rhythm guitar player with him before. I think he really wanted to go out as a three-piece. I ended up not doing the last couple shows. I did the American and U.K. legs. Then there were two or three dates in Europe that I didn’t do. That was rough for me because all I want to do was make him happy with the way I played. He wasn’t super communicative about what he wanted, but I tried til my last show with him in London (captured on the live CD Bob Mould Band: LiveDog98) to figure it out. After the show, he and the other guys boarded the bus to Paris and I was left in England.

The upside was, he wound up becoming friends with the members of Teenage Fanclub (whose manager once worked with Mould), which led to the making of Cerveris’ solo album, “Dog Eared,’ and which featured appearances by Norman Blake (of Teenage Fanclub), Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Ken Stringfellow (Posies, R.E.M.), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Kevin March (Guided by Voices), Anders Parker (Varnaline), and Laura Cantrell. This was also around the time Cerveris found himself in the unique position of taking over full time for John Cameron Mitchell in the title role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” In both the interview and onstage Monday, he recalled how the two of them had would run into each other in the 1990s:

We used to see each other at auditions and stuff because John was an actor. He would always be giving me flyers for this weird drag character he was doing, and I would hand him flyers for whatever band I was trying to get people to see that week. We were doing a workshop about a the band Queen that ultimately became “We Will Rock You.” But back then it was more a biographical musical about the band. John and I were playing the bass player and drummer. And we were basically the bad kids in the back of the class. We were like, “Seriously, you have to teach us to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody?” Like, if we don’t know how to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” already, we really shouldn’t be here. John was getting ready to do “Hedwig” at the Jane Street Theater. And he kept telling me about it and would ask me, “Should I call it a post-glam punk rock musical or the post-punk glam rock musical?” And I was like, I don’t know whatever you’re talk about. But I knew John’s rock interest was sincere.

This was also at the same time “Rent” had become the hippest musical on Broadway, something Cerveris admits to resenting because critics were calling it the first musical to really “get” rock ‘n’ roll right when, just a few years earlier, he believed “Tommy” had already more honestly earned that title. After some avoidance, he says, he broke down and caught the production, partly because some friends were in the cast. It was OK, he recalls, but, “I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I’d enjoy the songs more if I was in a club and some bar band was playing this. They were working really hard to be rock-and-roll-y kind of singers.”

The next night, he saw “Hedwig.”

“I was just blown away,” he said. “ I thought, if I had the wit and skill to write something, this is what I would do.”

Over time, Mitchell admitted to getting tired doing what in many ways was a one-man show, and he turned to Cerveris to fill in for him:

I was simultaneously thrilled and nauseous. I had never done a one person show before. Really, though, you’re not alone. The band and Yitsak make it feel like an ensemble show, even though you have all the lines. But I said yes, because taking on what terrifies me has usually been my way of figuring out what to do. What we all learned to John’s great relief was that other people can do it. I just learned an enormous amount and felt really so at home in the part and in the production and in that weird space downtown. It was like going down to the Salvation Army and putting on some old used suit, and it was like it was tailor made for you. Maybe with a dress and heels, but the same idea.

To help prepare for the production, Cerveris and the band played a New Year’s Eve show (1998) at Radio City Music Hall opening for, of all people, Boy George and Culture Club — in drag and everything.

“We’re playing songs from the show and people seemed a little mystified,” he said. “I always thought that was the way to introduce the show to someone. Wanted to play gigs in London (West End) like we’re some new, undiscovered tranny band.”

For the past four years, Cerveris has played with Loose Cattle, an Americana band in which he shares lead vocals with old friend Kimberly Kaye — who has become the playwright on the musical adaptation of the Katrina book “Nine Lives” (which Cerveris has been helping Paul Sanchez and Kim develop). They just released two new songs, “Pony Girl” — a sort-of outtake from the “Fun Home” soundtrack — and a haunting, sultry version of “St. James Infirmary” with Kaye on lead vocals.

Cerveris isn’t sure when he’ll next be able to herd some iteration of Loose Cattle to New Orleans for a performance — some of the musicians are pretty firmly rooted in New York. But it would be great for local audiences to hear, at some point, live and in person, how Michael Cerveris lives his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Because that is one language we’re only now fully appreciating that he can speak, quite fluently.





For Allen Toussaint, and his fans, the music was personal

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Every now and then, the New Orleans music community suffers a loss that goes even deeper than usual. When Allen Toussaint died at age 77 after a show in Spain, the loss reverberated around New Orleans and, really the rest of the world. It was so profound that, one could make the case it was the greatest loss since the passing of Louis Armstrong nearly 45 years ago. To name-check another great, it felt like we had lost our Cole Porter, for in Toussaint we lost a man who could make gritty New Orleans rhythm and blues, and its feisty child, funk, sound elegant and accessible to everyone.

That was Toussaint in real life: elegant, and accessible to everyone.

Which is why you didn’t even have to for wait entry into the Orpheum Theater on Friday (Nov. 20) for a sweet memory about Toussaint, even if there would be many shared in the tribute played out on the stage with a star-studded lineup and in front of a grieving family in the first few rows and grieving fans packed to the third-floor balcony. As we waited in line to get in — the doors opened at 8 a.m., but fans were queuing up well before 7:30 a.m. — fans stood in silence. Until they couldn’t. Right beside me, seemingly unprovoked, Maureen Morrow, a woman looking to be in her late 40s or early 50s spoke about how she’d seen Toussaint at the 1982 New Orleans Jazz Fest and, benefiting from one of his post-show customs of tossing out personal items, got to snag his songbook.

To her right, Annie Lousteau, graying and probably in her 60s, lit up, and reminisced about how, as an aspiring musician in her youth, sitting on Toussaint’s piano stool in his studio and strumming her guitar. He’d encouraged her to become a musician, she remembered, and she later pursued work in children’s musical theater.

Later, after Hurricane Katrina, Lousteau found herself stuck in her FEMA trailer, and music was her salvation as she tuned into WWOZ. “I was so depressed,” she remembered, before perking up and adding that the song “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky” had “become my anthem.”

On the other side of Morrow, Mary Phelps, the only African American of the three, and perhaps in her early 70s, remembered waiting on Toussaint when she worked at the Bon Ton Café — “He always ordered the fried shrimp,” she insisted. Going way further back, she remembered watching Toussaint perform back in the early 1960s along with Irma Thomas, Margie Joseph and others at the Joy Tavern in Gert Town, Toussaint’s neighborhood. It was part of a weekly “college night.” “He was a great musician,” she said. “He played good music. Clean music. I don’t know what they call that stuff today.”

These personal moments echoed what New Orleanians had been saying throughout the past week, remembering musical and run-in moments with Toussaint, who was difficult to miss while moving about the community in his signature Rolls-Royces (he had two) and his natty, colorful attire. He seemed to love posing for fans — including me and my son, Eli, when we caught him passing by the City Park playground on his way over to Morning Call during Jazz Fest.

That was Toussaint: elegant and accessible — and generous. So his death was as personal to us as his music was to him. Those speaking and performing at the tribute bore that out. While this was clearly a delicate balance of a tribute and a funeral service — the actual burial was for Saturday — the mixing and matching of secular words and biblical references, of pop songs and gospel, wove its own spiritual quilt for the audience. Cyril Neville, accompanied by Davell Crawford, performed “Let’s Live,” with is line: “Why deprive yourself, of the wonders of life / Time is getting shorter, there’s no reason for those lonely nights / If you don’t, if you don’t love me, you’ll miss the boat.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu reflected on Toussaint’s work with the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, and evoked the social call of “Yes We Can Can” with its line, “Make this land a better land / In the world in which we live / And help each man be a better man /With the kindness that you give.” Deacon John Moore followed with a subtle, stirring version of “Any Day Now.”

There were other magical musical moments: Davell Crawford’s sweet, wistful “Southern Nights,” Irma Thomas’ “Walk Around Heaven All Day,” Boz Scaggs’ “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” (backed by Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen), and so on. My personal favorite performance was arguably the least soulful moment, when Jimmy Buffett strode out in respectful but hipster black and performed a kind of deconstructive version of “Fortune Teller.” Buffett, never the world’s greatest vocalist, brought out all the mischief and cleverness of the lyrics, and accented certain moments of the ending (really, a punchline to a joke) — Now I’m a happy fellow / Well I’m married to the fortune teller / We’re happy as we can be / And I get my fortune told for free.” It was the accent on that last note, and a knowing grin by Buffett, that drew guffaws from the audience. “Ohhh, he had a sense of humor!” Buffett said, getting more chuckles.

But clearly this was day of deep, spiritual musical moments, including John Boutté’s gospel take on “All These Things,” and longtime reedman/sideman Brian “Breeze” Cayolle’s “Ave Maria, and Dr. John’s “Life” — but not without Mac’s typically offbeat comment by way of introduction that “this is off the hook and appropriated.”

While he promised there wouldn’t be a sermon, Michael Green, the pastor of the LifeGate Church, may have had the most apt description of Toussaint as an artist when he said, “Allen didn’t have a song; he was the song.”

It says something that a pastor trying not to sound too religious for a possibly more secular audience could have such a profound musical take on Toussaint, but that indicates the way his music reached into our hearts. You could hear it in remembrances from Joshua Feigenbaum (with whom Toussaint started the now-defunct NYNO Records label) and of course from Elvis Costello, who collaborated with Toussaint on the Grammy-nominated, post-Katrina album, 2006’s “The River in Reverse.”

Perhaps too choked up to perform himself, Costello nevertheless touched the audience with his reflections of a friendship cemented during Toussaint’s post-Katrina exile in New York City. Costello quoted “Freedom for the Stallion” with its memorable line, “They’ve got men building fences to keep other men out / Ignore him if he whispers and kill him if he shouts.”

“If Allen had anger about what happened 10 years ago,” Costello pointed out, “it was measured, always balanced with his belief that it would all come back. That music would restore the spirit of the place that he loved — from within, or without.”

The day ended in typical New Orleans music and funeral splendor, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s version of “Yes We Can Can” (with Boutté on vocals) followed by the more somber “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and then “I’ll Fly Away” in what amounted to an all-star jam of all who came before with Trombone Shorty thrown in for good measure. Pall-bearers carried the coffin, fashioned by Rhodes, out to waiting hearse with hundreds watching along the sidewalk and on the street.

How many of them out on the street had their own Allen Toussaint moment — on the stages at Jazz Fest, in the dusty music halls of the ’60s, in the New York clubs, or maybe even over at City Park catching a selfie?

Hopefully, those moments will help us get through the pain of losing one of the towering giants of New Orleans music. We can always go by his words, which rhetorically asked, “Why deprive yourself, of the wonders of life?”