Holding his special top coat is Allen Toussaint, right, with Alan Smason, left.
It's not all that often that the star performer at the annual Touro Synagogue Jazz Fest Shabbat is someone that I know personally, but last night's 19th annual such event proved to be one such event. In one of the most impressive lineups ever, Allen Toussaint, the most well-known New Orleans arranger, producer and songwriter took to the bimah, the raised platform from which Torah scrolls are read and sermons are regularly delivered, and proceeded to blow away the full house in the main sanctuary there. It was a night to revel in the music that came out of New Orleans including jazz and funk, but there was also time for prayer in which the entire congregation came together to observe the Sabbath with traditional Friday evening ritual prayers, albeit with a fresh approach in terms of music accompaniment. In a 6:00 p.m. private concert for patrons prior to the show open to the public, Toussaint played many of his well-known hits like "A Certain Girl" and "Mother-in-Law." But in the later concert he chose to play several surprising choices for his repertoire: songs by Jewish composers that were especially poignant, given the unusual venue. These included Paul Simon's "American Tune" and the late Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," to which audience members eagerly sung along. Joined by special guest "The Late Show with David Letterman" bandleader Paul Shaffer, Toussaint did a marvelous job juxtaposing the incredible George Gershwin's "Summertime" with Shaffer on a second piano. Shaffer, who wore a special black yarmulka for the occasion, more than rose to the task.
Paul Shaffer swinging in the synagogue.Joining the two superstars were the Panorama Jazz Band and other ensemble members gathered together by musical director Terry Maddox. After the concert was over, Touro Synagogue made a special presentation of an elaborately designed white tails top coat decorated with symbols associated with Toussaint's historic career. It was a wonderful night for Cantor Billy Tiep, Rabbi Alexis Berk and other lay leaders, who served on the planning committee. The evening started with the Sophie B. Wright Marching Band coming into all sides of the sanctuary and ended with the Hebrew song "Adon Olom" played as an ecnore by Toussaint, Shaffer and others to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." What a great night for prayer! What a great night for jazz! What a great night for New Orleans!