Goodbye to Allen Toussaint
In 2013, I was privileged to photograph Allen Toussaint sitting in with folk-blues legend Chris Smither at one of Chris' recording sessions. I had met Allen several times before and had seen him perform, but witnessing him in the recording studio was a different thing altogether.
He had a chart written out for his part on the first song, but when he arrived he discovered Chris was recording the song in a different key. Setting his music aside, he began improvising, take after take, changing little phrases here and there until he had composed a new part altogether as he listened to what Chris and drummer Billy Conway were playing along with him.
Allen Toussaint radiated humility and grace, and when I say "radiated," I mean those qualities made him radiant. I remember walking through the French Quarter one day in the middle of the week and passing him standing on the corner of Royal and St Louis, holding a video camera, quietly capturing the people walking past him, with this serene smile on his face. He had no entourage, no handlers, no manager hanging around. It was just him, taking in the scene, clearly delighting in what was going on around him.
A lot of people in New Orleans have stories like that, and while I can't speak for anyone else, I know it lit up my day to have a Toussaint sighting. Not because he was famous, exactly, but because he was so gracious, so humble, so kind. He represented the best things about this city and, I think, about humanity in general. I'm sure as hell going to miss seeing him around.