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New Orleans-Style Funeral For Allen Toussaint in Washington Square Park

By Danielle Tcholakian | November 26, 2015 3:50pm
 A man from Tarrytown is organizing a New Orleans-style Jazz Funeral for Allen Toussaint, to be held in Washington Square Park on Saturday.
A man from Tarrytown is organizing a New Orleans-style Jazz Funeral for Allen Toussaint, to be held in Washington Square Park on Saturday.
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Getty Images/Matt Roberts

GREENWICH VILLAGE — New Yorkers can experience a New Orleans-style funeral in Washington Square Park this weekend, thanks to a grieving jazz lover who needed to find a community to share his heartbreak over the death of legendary musician Allen Toussaint.

Jeff Grippe, 57, lives in New York but spends a third of the year in New Orleans. The city, and its music in particular, has special meaning for Grippe, and Toussaint was "one of the defining people in New Orleans music," he said.

"And really in modern popular music as a whole," Grippe added. "As a writer, arranger, producer — he is just one of the most important influences on modern popular music, and certainly he reflects the New Orleans musical tradition as well."

Grippe was hit hard by Toussaint's death on Nov. 10 — and struggled even more when it seemed none of his friends here felt the way he did.

"I was really upset by his death and many of the people that I know here in New York didn't really know too much about him," said Grippe. "I was having difficulty connecting with people here in New York who didn't understand why I was grieving so much."

So he set out to find people who would.

"I was like, 'You know, I know that there is a community of New Yorkers out there who feel the same way I do," he said.

Grippe said Toussaint came to New York after his home and studio were ruined by Hurricane Katrina.

"The best way to honor him [in New York], I thought, would be to do a traditional New Orleans jazz-style funeral," Grippe added.

In New Orleans, funerals often begin with a marching band performing slow, somber dirges to mourn the person's death, and then ramp up to upbeat songs meant to celebrate their life.

So Grippe reached out to local police to get permission for a parade, and they put him in touch with people "who were able to turn around the permits quite quickly."

Using Facebook, he has organized pallbearers to hold a model coffin during the procession, and enlisted the Jambalaya Brass Band to perform.

"It was just something I wanted to do, so I did," he said.

The funeral is set to begin at noon on Saturday, leaving from the small plaza to the west of the fountain. Grippe expects it to run until about 1:30 p.m. More than 100 people plan to attend, according to responses on a Facebook page for the event.

Toussaint was scheduled to play at City Winery in Hudson Square this Sunday night. Instead, Jon Batiste, the leader of the Colbert Show band, is headlining a memorial show.

Tickets to the show, from $55 bar stool tickets to $85 VIP ones, are sold out. But Grippe reached out to representatives of Batiste to let him know about the funeral, in case the musician wants to come.

"I don't have confirmation from his people that he is coming to our service, but he is aware of it," Grippe said. "I think he'll come if he can work it into his schedule."