Allen Toussaint is one of America’s greatest musical treasures. Singer, pianist, songwriter, arranger and producer — the New Orleans native has been making hit records for over forty years. His massive influence on American music reaches deep into the idioms of rhythm and blues, pop, country, musical theater, blues and jazz. Two years ago, Toussaint added yet another credit to his lengthy list of accomplishments, co-founder of NYNO Records. Launched in conjunction with the 1996 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, NYNO has to date released 11 albums covering a range of New Orleans music, led by Connected, Toussaint’s first full-length national release in nearly two decades.
Recorded in New Orleans at Toussaint’s famed Sea-Saint Recording Studios, Connected offers Toussaint’s trademark mix of Professor Longhair-inspired piano licks, funky r&b and sensitive balladry. The album’s lyrics touch on the desire for love and the longing for oneness, both between individuals and among the world family. This recent collection includes performances from such New Orleans mainstays as trumpeter Dave Bartholomew, guitarist Leo Nocentelli (The Meters), drummer Russell Batiste (The Funky Meters), saxophonist Amadee Castenell and many other skilled musicians.
NYNO, which refers to the label’s twin homes in the Big Easy and the Big Apple, is the product of a partnership between Toussaint and New Yorker Joshua Feigenbaum, founder of MJI Broadcasting. With this exciting venture, Toussaint hopes to increase the professional recognition and presence of the great indigenous music of New Orleans and its varied practitioners. In addition to his own album, Connected, Toussaint produced all of the other NYNO releases and has written for and/or performed on most of them. This includes such artists as Amadee Castenell, New Birth Brass Band, James Andrews, Wallace Johnson, Larry Hamilton, Raymond Myles, Oliver Morgan, Grace Darling and Cool Riddims and Sista Teedy.
Allen Toussaint has been an integral part of New Orleans’ musical landscape since the late fifties. His first career break came at age 17 when he was called to replace Huey Smith in Earl King’s band for a gig in Pritchard, Alabama. That encounter introduced Allen to the "Dew Drop set," which included the best and the busiest of New Orleans’ thriving music scene. Soon after, he was hired by Dave Bartholomew to play the piano parts for a Fats Domino recording session when "the Fat Man" was on the road. Following that call, Toussaint quickly became a permanent fixture on the New Orleans studio scene. In his early twenties, the young musician was hired by the local Minit Records to supervise its recording activities. Toussaint quickly accumulated an amazing string of hits for the label, producing, writing, arranging and often performing on tracks by Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, Chris Kenner, Jessie Hill and Benny Spellman. In 1958, Toussaint cut his first solo record for RCA, with more to follow. Two of his earliest tunes, "Java" (which later became a mega-hit for trumpeter Al Hirt) and "Whipped Cream" (the Herb Alpert hit also used as the theme for The Dating Game) became instrumental standards. In the late 60’s, Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn formed Sansu Enterprises, recording many artists and scoring hit after hit with Lee Dorsey, who was often backed by the funky rhythm section known as The Meters. Sea-Saint Recording Studios opened in the early 70’s, with its goal to create a state-of-the-art studio in New Orleans that could compete with Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Toussaint’s output in the seventies included some of the most seminal recordings of the funk and disco era, including Dr. John’s "Right Place, Wrong Time" and Labelle’s "Lady Marmalade," while his horn arrangements were featured on such legendary rock recordings as The Band’s "Rock of Ages," Paul Simon’s "Kodachrome," and others. As a solo recording artist Toussaint released From Whisper to a Scream on Scepter Records and three more albums for Warner Brothers/Reprise, Love, Life and Faith, Southern Nights and Motion. More recently, he has been featured on several all-star collaborations, including Rhythm Country and Blues and Bluesiana Hot Sauce. In 1994, Toussaint co-produced, wrote for and performed on a historic reunion of the key New Orleans session musicians who were instrumental in creating the New Orleans sound in the fifties and sixties entitled Crescent City Gold: The Ultimate Session.
Some of the best known hits penned by Toussaint include: Ernie K-Doe’s "Mother-in-Law;" "Fortune Teller," recorded by both Benny Spellman and The Rolling Stones; the Lee Dorsey hit "Working in the Coal Mine", also recorded by Devo and The Judds; and the Grammy-nominated "Southern Nights," recorded by Glen Campbell, which received BMI’s "The Most Performed Song of the Year" in 1977 and won the Country Music Association’s "Song of the Year." The master has produced such artists as Etta James, Albert King, Chocolate Milk, The Meters, LaBelle, Ramsey Lewis, John Mayall and Dr. John, and has been covered by and/or performed with the Pointer Sisters, Bonnie Raitt, The Judds, Robert Palmer, Otis Redding, The O’Jays, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Winter, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Chet Atkins, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello, among others.
One of the leading disciples of Professor Longhair, Toussaint has been featured, along with ‘Fess and Tuts Washington, in the award-winning documentary, Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. Toussaint has also plied his expertise in live theater, writing words and music for the play William Christopher and contributing to the success of the off-Broadway play Staggerlee as a performer, composer and musical director. The play received the prestigious Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Music in an Off-Broadway Musical for 1986 - 87. He again performed and served as composer and musical director in the 1991 Broadway production of High Rollers Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
In New Orleans, Toussaint is revered for his distinguished record in public service, consistently devoting his talents to a variety of community and charity programs including New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, an organization he co-founded with Aaron Neville. Recently, he received the Louisiana Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the Governor’s Mansion. His creative powers in full bloom, 1998 has already been an extremely successful year for Toussaint. On January 12th he was awarded with one of the highest honors possible to be bestowed on anyone in the music business - induction into the 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many more honors have followed, including a Louisiana Legend Award from the Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, a Big Easy Award for Entertainer of the Year, a Commemorative Envelope from the United States Postal Service and Toussaint’s induction into Tipitina’s newly inaugurated Walk of Fame, joining the ranks of Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Art Neville. Toussaint has also initiated a new night of live entertainment at the recently opened Tipitina’s in the French Quarter: Thursday’s now feature an ‘Allen Toussaint Presents…’ night, which is a forum for Allen to present the music that he believes in, whether it is his band, an up-and-coming act or a New Orleans legend.