Allen Toussaint: Tipitina and Me

From the early '50s "Tee Nah Nah" by Smiley Lewis and the answering "Tipitina" by Professor Longhair through the high-energy madness of Huey "Piano" Smith's Clowns, strutting brass bands, and various Mardi Gras "Indians," to Dr. John's psychedelic voodoo and James Booker's eye patch, there's been a whole mess o' NOLA nonsense unleashed on a deserving world. Multitasking producer/songwriter/pianist/ hitmaker/label owner Allen Toussaint had a hand in much of it, but his own releases over the decades were mostly quieter affairs, befitting a musician with some classical and jazz interests, which culminated in a couple of high-profile, post-Katrina albums with Elvis Costello.

More haunting, however, is "Tipitina and Me," his second contribution to Our New Orleans 2005 (first being the funk-rouser "Yes We Can Can," which has a familiar ring). It's a perfect slice of the Crescent City, past and present. In the course of less than three minutes, the engrossed listener hears Jelly Roll Morton's Spanish tinge (the Caribbean Creole habanera sound plus Louis Moreau Gottschalk) and mad 'Fess's sly key-tickling, as well as some Slavic Classic sadness mixed with bayou blues; you experience the pianist's personal grief but profound hope too, and all carried on a rolling rhumba rhythm. It's as though he were saying, "We may be down but we're not out, not by a Congo Square jump-up, or a long chain of cheap plastic beads." And just to make the point, after striking the last chord of "Tipitina," Toussaint adds a few faint notes from the intro to Professor Longhair's perennial fave as his own final message: "Go to the Mardi Gras."

February 25, 2009 · 0 comments


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