By Lee T. Guzofski--
There are few places in the world that can boast the ability to seamlessly transform an elegant dining room into a sweaty New Orleans roadhouse, but that is precisely what went down on Tuesday, February 2nd, as jubilant Friars paid tribute to one of their own, legendary New Orleans songwriter and producer, Friar Allen Toussaint.
I have long respected the Friars and recently made my admiration tangible by officially joining the Club. There was no hesitation nor consideration once Executive Director, Michael Gyure, offered me the distinct honor of producing this Allen Toussaint Tribute. I have enjoyed a lifelong love of New Orleans - its culture, its music & its musicians - and to be able to pay tribute to an absolute titan ranks highly among the greatest honors of my life.
My first call was to piano phenomenon Henry Butler. I had met Henry after an Allen Toussaint show here in New York after Allen had pulled him onstage with a respectful caveat: “I’m just like any other piano player. When Henry Butler’s in the room... I'm scared to death.'
With abundant help from the Friars, we were able to assemble a band of New Orleans legends who had played with Toussaint for over a cumulative century. Henry Butler led the band with Leo Nocentelli (The Meters) on guitar, Amadee Castenell Jr. (Chocolate Milk) on saxophone, Steven Bernstein (Levon Helm) on trumpet, Chris Severin on bass and Raymond Weber on drums. American Idol Season 11 Finalist, Elise Testone, and New Orleans chanteuse, Margie Perez, provided soul-elevating vocals.
The evening attracted Paul Shaffer, as well as tributes from Jimmy Buffet, Harry Connick Jr. and Dr. John. The sold-out crowd could not stay in their seats and all hell broke loose during the Mardi Gras standard, “Hey Pocky A-Way,” among many other Toussaint authored classics.
Butler would later post on Facebook: “Gotta love those Friars! They made it possible for me to bring together a group of musicians who don’t often get to play together, and we set the Friars Club on fire the other night! Everyone was dancing, smoking up the place. It was said to be 'the most musically pure tribute to a man who conjured magic.' That would be Allen Toussaint, and it was all that, and more...'
Now that Mardi Gras is in our rear view, it’s an appropriate time for reflection and that night lived up to its title, (itself a quote uttered to describe Allen) “A Beautiful Dream We All Shared.' The evening was a dream come true for me, and I was elated with how rapturously the Friars shared in it. It was a meaningful celebration of a dignified legend, and as I now understand from the inside, there was no hotter spot in town that night than the Friars Club. Check it out for yourself right here.