Jon Cleary Celebrates Allen Toussaint On New Album
New Orleans pianist Jon Cleary will pay tribute to Allen Toussaint on his new album, Occapella. In an effort to “have fun” with Toussaint’s songs, Cleary recruited a mix of players for the project, including Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt and his longtime group The Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a tribute,” Cleary says of Occapella. “The term ‘tribute’ sounds rather corny, really. On the back of the album, I just put, ‘Having fun with the songs of Allen Toussaint,’ which sums up the vibe a bit better. Toussaint’s music was the soundtrack of my adolescence, I’ve played a lot of his songs with the guys who had the original hits with them, and we’ve crossed paths on numerous occasions. So this record was a logical thing for me to do.
“My inclination at first was to pick the most obscure tunes I could find, because I’ve always been a bit of a funk detective,” he continues. “Then one of my managers said, ‘It’s a great idea, but if you’re gonna do this, make sure there are some songs that people recognize.’ So I picked a couple of his better-known tunes, but I tried to take them in a different direction — to take an aspect of the melody or the chord progression, or perhaps his original arrangement, and present it in a different box, as it were.”
Cleary will release Occapella on April 17 through his own label. He will perform at New Orleans’ d.b.a. this Wednesday and Thursday.