One of the great things about doing research for NEW ORLEANS CALLING is that sometimes we stumble across really fascinating moments of musical history, pretty much by accident. Which is basically how we found this video of Allen Toussaint joining the legendary boogie woogie piano player Champion Jack Dupree onstage at Jazz Fest in 1990.
Ten years ago, producer and host George Ingmire was doing research at the Archive of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival & Foundation, and heard recordings of Champion Jack Dupree being interviewed and playing piano at the Music Heritage Stage at Jazz Fest in 1990 and 1991. And that’s what got him interested in telling Jack’s story.
In 2014 a volunteer timecoded those recordings at the Archive for NEW ORLEANS CALLING — and in the timecode there’s a point where the volunteer made the notation: “amazing piano solo, with wild applause.’”
So I listened to the recording at that point, and it was definitely amazing. I thought there was probably a second player at the piano, but I just assumed it would have been Jack’s guitarist, Kenn Lending from Copenhagen, who was there on stage too. I wasn’t expecting it to be Allen Toussaint himself.
Fast-forward two years, and our long-planned episode of NEW ORLEANS CALLING about Jack Dupree has turned into a huge two-part production. And George Ingmire is on his cell phone in the office, arranging an interview with the famous blues booking agent Dick Waterman, who knew Champion Jack Dupree and toured America with him in 1991. And George gets off the phone and says, “Wow, Dick just told me this amazing story of Allen Toussaint sneaking up behind Champion Jack Dupree while he was playing, and Allen was suddenly playing piano alongside him, and the crowd went wild.”
I said, “Wait, that has to be on the 1990 recording we have, because that’s the one in which Allen Toussaint interviews Jack and is onstage with him.” So I pulled up the timecode for the recording at the Archive to see if it said anything, but all I could find was “amazing piano solo, with wild applause.” But then I remembered that at the very bottom of the page it said “RELATED MATERIALS: video tape of interview.” I had asked the archivists about the video a couple of years ago, but at that point the video hadn’t been converted from VHS into digital form and wasn’t accessible just then, so we eventually forgot about it and moved on.
But now we really wanted to know if this was Allen Toussaint on the recording with Champion Jack Dupree — so I called up the Archive and asked if we could look at the video after all, and Associate Archivist Dolores Hooper said, “No problem, Dave!”
And then I sat and watched, and Champion Jack came to life in a new way, waggling his eyebrows and having a great time. And there was Allen Toussaint, sneaking up behind Champion Jack Dupree onstage, and then they shared the piano for about six incredible minutes. And the 82-year-old Jack was mugging for the crowd, and dancing, and drinking beer, and the audience absolutely loved it.
When Archivist Rachel Lyons watched the video, she recognized a number of important Jazz Fest photographers who pop up behind the piano at different times. You can also see Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, if you look closely. The video is also worth watching for a look inside the old grandstand at the racetrack, which housed the Music Heritage Stage.
And just a few days later George Ingmire interviewed Kenn Lending, the Danish guitarist who was Champion Jack Dupree’s sideman. Kenn recalled the event perfectly, and confirmed what we had suspected, that the team-up with Allen Toussaint had not been planned ahead of time: