Toussaint Discusses New Orleans' Musical Heritage

Host Debbie Elliott talks with New Orleans pianist and composer Allen Toussaint about his evacuation out of the Big Easy and the future of the city's music scene. Toussaint, who is now in New York, thinks the hurricane is but an "intermission" for the music scene, and that it will persevere.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Hurricane Katrina has left many wondering what's to become of New Orleans vibrant music scene. The city is the birthplace of jazz, and is renowned worldwide for embracing all kinds of sounds; the blues, zydeco, funk and more. Singer/songwriter and pianist Allen Toussaint has been a mainstay of the New Orleans music scene since the 1960s. He's in New York now, where we reached him by phone this weekend. Toussaint evacuated New Orleans after the hotel he was staying in during the hurricane started to fill with water.

Mr. ALLEN TOUSSAINT (Singer/Songwriter): I always think that I will ride hurricanes and storms out, having been through so many, of course, nothing of this magnitude.

ELLIOTT: What was it like?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Oh, it was tremendous. It came with a vengeance.

ELLIOTT: What happened at your house?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, at my residence, I'm sure I've lost everything on my first floor, which is where all of my equipment is that I deal with on a daily basis, and, of course, my Steinway is probably gone. But all of the things that I may have lost have served me well to this point, and I am just looking ahead to the future.

ELLIOTT: You know, authorities came on--even the mayor came out and warned people this was the big one that everybody had feared, and people need to get out of there and a lot of people stayed, and you, obviously, were one of them. What is it that made you want to stay, knowing what was coming?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, it's a New Orleans event and I figure if there was something to witness, I'm always willing to witness it. And whether good, bad or indifferent, I like to be there really, and I probably would be there at the next one.

ELLIOTT: How do you think this will impact the music scene in New Orleans with so many people scattered like yourself and so much of the city damaged?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, the music scene is just on an intermission for the moment. I don't think it will hurt it at all. I think even it will bring some attention to people who may have not been as involved or who may have not looked that way in a while. For the music scene, I think, we will be quite fine on the other side.

ELLIOTT: Have you been in touch with other musicians from the city?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, I haven't talked with them personally, but I know Irma Thomas is well, and she was out performing in another city, and "Fats" Domino is well, and the The Nevilles, they're well. And I haven't talked with any of the musicians personally yet, but I'm assuming that they're well because musicians are movers; they're not reluctant about making moves; they're accustomed to moving.

ELLIOTT: Do you have any sense of when you may be able to return home?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, before I left, the mayor was saying that for those who had left, it would be at least two to four weeks before they should think about coming home. So I'm taking it month by month. But if the powers to be--if they would say we can return home, tomorrow I'd be on the first thing smoking.

ELLIOTT: You ready to be there, huh?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Oh, yes. Yeah, I don't have to wait until they clean up; I would go and help clean up.

ELLIOTT: After all that you've been through, evacuating your beloved city, watching it be flooded and under water and a good part of it destroyed...

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...are you still able to concentrate on your music?

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Oh, definitely. Definitely. In fact, I must say inspiration comes in all colors and forms and sizes, and in a way it's very inspiring.

ELLIOTT: Musician and producer Allen Toussaint. He evacuated New Orleans and spoke with us from East Hampton, New York. Thank you.

Mr. TOUSSAINT: Well, thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Sunrise and sunset.

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