I never had the good fortune of meeting Allen Toussaint, the great New Orleans musician who died on Monday, but I want to share two stories about him with you.
1. This was about 10 years ago, when I lived in lower Manhattan. I was taking my dog, Mojo, on a long walk in and around Battery Park–and then I stumbled into a free concert in the park, where Toussaint was performing. I arrived just as he started “Yes We Can Can.” It remains one of my favorite moments of New York City serendipity ever.
2. Four years ago, I wrote an article about Hugh Laurie for The New York Times Magazine. Toussaint did the horn arrangements for Laurie’s debut album Let Them Talk, so I asked Laurie to tell me a Toussaint story. The anecdote didn’t reveal much about Laurie, so it didn’t make it into the article, but I treasure it nevertheless:
“He was making a record with Elvis Costello, half of it in Los Angeles and half in New Orleans. A friend of mine knew Elvis and said, ‘Do you want to come along to the studio and listen to them play?’ They had a 13- or 14-piece band with a big horn section. Elvis sang, is it ‘Freedom of the Stallion’ or ‘Freedom for the Stallion’? [The latter–GE] Whatever, it’s a beautiful ballad. They’d done a couple of takes, and they both came into the control room to listen. Elvis said to Allen, ‘What did you think?’ Allen, who’s very gentle and professorial, said, ‘I think that at the end of the song, it should feel as if the voice has been lifted to heaven on the wings of the organ. The voice should be born aloft on just the organ.’ Elvis said to the engineer, ‘Allen thinks the organ should be louder.’”