JazzFest 2019: The Day Before

Posted: April 24th, 2019 | Filed under: Culture, Music | No Comments »

There is a burning question for those of us obsessed with the anecdotia of rock & roll, especially that of New Orleans.

Why is that Allen Toussaint, a fellow on the Mount Rushmore of American music, a bespoke, dapper fellow, who was alway dressed impeccably in the finest if elegantly flamboyant, superbly tailored suits, a dandy; why is that the Mr. Toussaint, with never a thread out of place, always wore sandals with white socks.

If it weren’t for his musical eminency, such an apparel quirk would never have cut it.

To find out the answer to this nagging query about my favorite musician — that’s Toussaint and me at the top of the c d kaplan Culture Maven Facebook page — I went to the source.

Allen Toussaint’s haberdasher.

Ozzie Hunter is also immaculately attired, if considerably more conservatively, given that he’s been a salesman to the stars and New Orleans gentry (and turista) for decades at Rubenstein’s. Which family owned Crescent City store at the corner of St. Charles and Canal continues to clothe men for whom New Orleans is more than a thing, but a way of life.

“I catered to Allen’s tastes for over twenty years,” advises Hunter.

“He knew exactly what he wanted. If he liked one of those outrageous coats off that rack over there, he’d buy it on the spot.

“But we’d also special order Brioni suits.”

As Ozzie and I mused about Toussaint’s taste in clothes, I asked, “And he got away with wearing that finery with sandals and white socks??? Anybody else and it wouldn’t work. I wonder why?”

“I asked him once, ‘Allen you wear “$6-7000 suits, why sandals?’ He said when he was a younger man, he had some sort of athletic foot issue that caused him pain. The doctor told him to wear sandals and white socks. He did. And continued to do so for the rest of his life.”

Hunter is a sweet guy, very nice. And a great salesman.

I’m now the owner of a new DatMambo camp shirt I didn’t need but really like, festooned with crawfish and trumpets. You can’t really get more New Orleans than dat.

The salesman Allen Toussaint and I now share also advised that Tousaint owned not one but two Rolls Royces. I knew about the gold one, which would be parked outside the door of the hotel we shared during JazzFest in those years after Katrina when Toussaint moved to NYC. He also had one in aqua blue.

There ya go, I chatted up Ozzie Hunter, the ever sartorial Allen Toussaint’s haberdasher. So I got that goin’ for me, which is way more than nice.

 * * * * *

One of my favorite scenes in “Treme,” the HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans is David Morse’s character police Lt. Terry Colson driving to Indianapolis where he must move, because he was an honest cop. While heading out of town on I-10, he has WWOZ on the car radio, catching a last bit of Crescent City music on the way out.

As the station faded out, losing its signal, it was a perfect visual and audial metaphor for the character’s plight and sadness.

The flip side is when the station comes in on the way to JazzFest, about fifty or so miles out, on the other side of Slidell.

This year was especially tasty as DJ Ronnie, I believe is his name, was playing NO R&B classics.

Earl King. Snooks Eaglin. Fess. Ms. Irma. Dr. John’s marvelous, smile-inducing version of “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around?” And the ultimate Crescent City personality/ singer/ entrepreneur Ernie K-Doe.

What a sweet welcome.

 * * * * *

WWOZ is a radio station like no other. (Which I say with no disrespect for boffo WFPK for whom I toil.)

OZ — a perfect shortening of its identifier — is just so so so New Orleans. Otherworldly almost, with a deliciously haphazard quality to its programming.

Yet it covers all the bases. Even stuff not directly related to NO.

Like the interview with Dan Penn I heard riding down St. Charles on the way home from dinner at Clancy’s last night.

You might not know Penn, but he’s written plenty of songs you do. “Dark End of the Street.” “I’m Your Puppet.” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” “It Tears Me Up.” “The Letter.”

In fact the show included a friend of Penn’s who has started a museum of sorts for Penn in the singer/ songwriter’s small hometown in Alabama. The guy is attempting to collect a copy of every version of every Penn song.

So far, he’s got over 800 versions of 376 different Penn-crafted tunes.

That’s a lotta music. The guy’s prolific. And really really good.

No, it didn’t have anything really to do with New Orleans, the guy worked in Muscle Shoals and Memphis with Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman. But it was great stuff.

 * * * * *

The other side of the coin.

What I’m listening to now as I write on OZ are recordings from The Fire Benefit, a 1974 benefit at the Warehouse for Professor Longhair, whose house had  burned down. All the local rhythm & blues stalwarts were there. One of the more significant live concerts ever? It gets my vote.

God, I love this place, this JazzFest.

Which, oh by the way starts tomorrow. Bring your rain gear. Showers are expected.

— c d kaplan

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