Since Toussaint left Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid eighties, He hasn’t looked back. Nor has he spent a career trying to repeat the past. The experiences gained in that world-class hothouse have enabled him to push forward and embrace challenging, and often high profile, musical collaborations in many different jazz styles.
Today he works out of London England as a composer, tenor/soprano saxophonist, bandleader and highly regarded jazz educator.
Born in the Caribbean, Toussaint grew up in St Thomas USVI and started playing the saxophone at the Charlotte Amalie High School under the musical tutelage of Charles Cox, who took a special interest in the talented youngster, offering guidance and extra tuition. After high school, Toussaint attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston along with future jazz stars Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, Kevin Eubanks, Jeff Watts, Victor Bailey, Cindy Blackman, Donald Harrison and many others.
While at Berklee, Toussaint studied with and was mentored by the great saxophonist/educator Billy Pierce. It was Pierce who recommended Toussaint to replace him in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Relocating to New York, he joined in 1982 and toured and recorded with the band for four years alongside pianists Johnny Oneal, Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown, trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Wallace Roney, alto saxophonists Donald Harrison and Kenny Garrett, trombonist Tim Williams and bassists Charles Fambrough, Lonnie Plaxico and Peter Washington. With Art Blakey, these young men found themselves in a uniquely enviable position as the band travelled the world playing all the major festivals, clubs and concert halls.
While residing in New York and when not on the road with the messengers Toussaint, regularly led the jam sessions at the famous Blue Note Jazz club and, would visit other New York clubs sitting in with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard etc.
Invited to teach for three months at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, by pianist/educator Lionel Grigson, Toussaint came to London in 1987 and still uses the capital as his base. In addition to his work at the GSMD and private one to one teaching, for which he has many students, Toussaint is also a member of the teaching staff at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and occasionally the Royal Academy of Music. The bulk of Toussaint’s work is as a performer.
Since moving to London he has, led his own bands and various projects, released ten CDs as a leader and guested on many more. Collaborations with musicians based in the UK have included Bheki Mseleku, Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Cleveland Watkiss and others.
Toussaint is also often invited to join tours with US musicians visiting Europe and most recently was on tour with pianist Cedar Walton and Donald Brown, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and an extensive tour of Europe the Middle East and New York with the great Jeff Watts.
The last few years he has played the North Sea Jazz festival Holland, Montreux Jazz festival Switzerland, Clemont-Ferrand, Vienne, Toulouse and Paris Jazz festivals France, Bologna Jazz festival Italy, San Sebastian Jazz festival Spain, Berlin Jazz festival Germany, Cork, Dublin and Sligo Jazz festivals Ireland, London and several other jazz festivals around England and Scotland and jazz clubs and concerts halls all over Europe.
Toussaint’s most recent CD is entitled “Live in Paris and London”, and upon it’s release, garnered four-star reviews from John Fordham at the Guardian newspaper and Selwyn Harris at Jazzwise magazine. At the present moment Toussaint is recording a new studio CD with his quartet which should hopefully be available in late 2013 or early 2014.
To commemorate, the twenty-fifth year of, the passing of the great Art Blakey in 2015 Toussaint is busy organising a project which (borrowed from the Messengers Blue Note record of the same name) he calls “Roots and Herbs/The Blakey Project” which, in the spirit of Art Blakey, will introduce a band of young lions to the music of the jazz Messengers with a rotating drum chair covered by the best newcomers and established drummers in the UK and Europe. There will be three phases to this project.
Phase one (Roots and Herbs/The Blakey Project) “Young Lions” will be a core group of young lions. They will learn about 50 of the arrangements from the Messengers repertoire. Some of the personnel already decided upon is, young (current TCM) trumpeter Mark Kavuma, young (recent GSMD graduate) trombonist Nathaniel Cross, young (recent B’ham Con graduate) bassist Daniel Casimir and young (current TCM) piano wis kid Ruben James. Holding down the drum chair for this phase will be a selection of the freshest newcomers making a name on the scene. Names like Moses Boyd, Chris Drapper, Ben Brown, Emanuel ….. and Dave Hamblet.
Phase two (Roots and Herbs/The Blakey Project) “All-Stars” will be selected from the more established players on the London and international jazz scene. Names like trumpeters Byron Wallen, Steve Fishwick, Gerrad Presencer and France’s Stephane Belmondo. Trombonist Denis Rollins, Winston Rollins, Tom Dunnett, and Trevor. Bassist Larry Bartley, Alex Davis, Alec Dankworth, Arnie Somogyi and Mark Hodgson. Pianist Jason Rebello, Trevor Watkis, Julian Joseph, and Ruben James. Holding down the drum chair will be names like Clark Tracy, Gene Caldorazzo, Mark Modesir, Winston Clifford, Troy Miller and Shane Forbes.
Phases three will be totally subject to budget because it will consist solely of former jazz Messengers. To be decided upon at a later date.
JEFF “TAIN” WATTS
THE JAZZ CRUSADERS
(and many others)