January 11, 2005

"Java" (Toussaint-Tyler-Schack)
Al Tousan, from The Wild Sound of New Orleans by Tousan, RCA, 1958

Fresh out

While he shared writing credit with Red Tyler and the mysterious Marilyn Schack, Allen Toussaint wrote “Java” and a passel of other tunes on the fly for a recording date in 1958 set up by Danny Kessler, a talent scout and record producer, who had heard the young man’s piano skills during a session for another artist. He had already played on numerous recordings, but Toussaint had not yet released anything in his own name. The first two songs recorded were “Whirlaway” and “Happy Times”, both instrumentals released on an RCA single in the name of Al Tousan (Kessler’s attempt to simplify Toussaint’s name). A few weeks later, ten more instrumentals were recorded, resulting in the now legendary album, The Wild Sound of New Orleans by Tousan. Toussaint, who will be 67 on January 14, has discounted the compositions on his first album as hastily created and cut, some being no more than extended riffs; but they well display his fine chops, his influences (Professor Longhair, Albert Ammons, Ray Charles, Lloyd Glenn, among others), and, in the case of “Java”, his developing flair for melodic hooks.

The other players Toussaint assembled for the sessions were all A-list studio musicians: Alvin “Red” Tyler, baritone sax; Nat Perrilliat or Lee Allen, tenor sax; Justin Adams or Roy Montrell, guitar; Frank Fields, bass; and Charles “Hungry” Williams, drums. A listen to Williams’ tricked out, quirky syncopation on this tune shows why he was in demand back in the day. Many musicians, including Toussaint and Dr. John, attest to the skills and unique character of this mostly forgotten name in New Orleans percussive history.

When Toussaint was in the Army in 1964, he was shocked one day to hear “Java” on the radio, as recorded by Al Hirt. Hirt’s version was a big hit and insured that the song would live on (and pay off), even if the original was forgotten. Toussiant’s entire first album plus sessions he did a year later for Seville Records can be found on the Bear Family CD, The Complete Tousan Sessions. The original LP and related singles are all very hard to come by, although the album was re-issued on vinyl in the UK ten years or more ago. I’ll be favoring you with more from Allen Toussaint (recorded live) for his birthday. Stay tuned.

More on Allen Toussaint
VH1/AllMusic Bio
Overview of selected songs
Interview on Harry Shearer's Le Show


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