Studio Sessions

Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello On Piano Jazz

Listen Now

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Elvis Costello (left) and Allen Toussaint. i

Elvis Costello (left) and Allen Toussaint. Jimmy Katz hide caption

toggle caption Jimmy Katz
Elvis Costello (left) and Allen Toussaint.

Elvis Costello (left) and Allen Toussaint.

Jimmy Katz

Set List

  • "Southern Nights" (Allen Toussaint)
  • "Mother-in-Law" (Allen Toussaint)
  • "Fortune Teller" (Allen Toussaint)
  • "Solitude" (Duke Ellington/Eddie DeLange/Irving Mills)
  • "Singing the Blues" (Con Conrad/Sam M. Lewis/J. Russel Robinson/Joe Young)
  • Medley: "Tipitina/Ascension Day" (Henry Roeland Byrd/Allen Toussaint/Elvis Costello)

Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello sits down as a guest hot with music legend Allen Toussaint in this installment of Piano Jazz. Like Toussaint, Costello has crossed many genres in his career, working with the likes of producer/composer Nick Lowe, trumpet great Chet Baker, legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach and his own wife, jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall.

Toussaint is one of New Orleans' most revered musicians, working since the late 1950s as an arranger-producer while writing songs like "Working in a Coal Mine," "Southern Nights" and "Ride Your Pony." These days, he performs his music around the world, and even joined Costello to record the 2006 album The River in Reverse. In this session, Costello introduces Toussaint as "a living embodiment of the rich musical heritage of the Crescent City."

Here, Toussaint performs "Mother-in-Law," "Fortune Teller" and a very personal version of "Southern Nights," a hit single for country/pop great Glen Campbell. Toussaint takes the song back to its roots, recalling the nights when his father took him to the country to visit "the old Creole people." Then he brings his New Orleans-born rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities to the standards "Singin' the Blues," a song closely associated with Marian McPartland and her late husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland.

The lively conversation covers early influences on Toussaint's music: jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, church music and "hillbilly music." Talk changes to the great storm Toussaint calls "the booking agent Katrina." It actually helped him move into a rewarding new phase in his career.

In the final selection, the duo plays a medley of piano legend Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" and the Toussaint-Costello song "Ascension Day." Over Toussaint's rolling, bluesy piano, Costello's lyrics paint an anguished picture of the empty streets they found shortly after Katrina, when they came to New Orleans to finish The River in Reverse. There is hope in the song's ending, though: "But I know they will return / Like they've never gone away / Come Ascension Day."

Originally recorded April 17, 2009. Originally aired Aug. 26, 2009.

Purchase Featured Music

River in Reverse

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

River in Reverse
Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint
Verve Forecast

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from