Out today: “Last Waltz for Levon,” the second preview track from my upcoming record, Dynamic Maximum Tension.
This track is also inspired by the horn arrangements written by legendary piano professor, songwriter, and producer Allen Toussaint wrote for The Band’s classic live album, Rock of Ages. There’s this famous story about how all of the charts that Toussaint had written down in New Orleans were lost by the airline, so when he joined The Band up in Woodstock he had to start again from scratch, dashing them off just before the run of live shows at the Academy of Music.
The horn section for these shows is ridiculous — the crème de la crème of early 1970s New York:
Snooky Young on trumpet & flugel
J.D. Parran on alto sax & Eb clarinet
Joe Farrell on tenor sax, soprano sax & English horn
Earl McIntyre on trombone
Howard Johnson on tuba, euphonium, & bari sax
(Contracted by HoJo, with Snooky and Joe “borrowed” from Thad & Mel!)
Levon deeply resented the Scorsese film The Last Waltz — he felt it squeezed out everyone except Robbie Robertson. But Helm, a natural charmer, steals every scene he’s in! It remains the best documentation of Levon’s incredible artistry.
In his later years, Levon Helm began to host regular jams in his barn up in Woodstock — he called them Midnight Rambles. The star-studded musical guests included Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, and Dr. John, and the house band included a number of NY jazz musicians, notably trumpeter Steven Bernstein.
I never got to meet Levon, but I did have one memorable encounter with Allen Toussaint. I was signing CDs after our set at the 2014 Newport Jazz Fest. I look up and the next person in line is… oh my GOD, is that… I just sat there with my mouth agape, until finally, Toussaint’s friend (and NYNO Records founder) Joshua Feigenbaum, says “That’s Allen Toussaint.”
“I KNOW!” I exclaimed, finally regaining the ability to speak.
Allen was of course incredibly kind and gracious. One of the tunes in our Newport set that year was, fortuitously, “Last Waltz for Levon.” So I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to thank Professor Toussaint for the inspiration.