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Amy Tan introduces Paris cabaret sensation PASCAL TOUSSAINT a little chat, a lot of scatting
February 28, 2010
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Pascal Toussaint was born in Guadeloupe into a musical family. He first started singing in his father’s choir when he was five. When he was 14, he won a singing contest. The prize was singing lessons. But when his teachers heard him sing, they said he should receive his training in a more advanced school.
At age 15, he was accepted into the Conservatoire in Paris, where he underwent classical training. While there, one of his teachers wondered why his voice was still that of a child, even though he was already 19. She took him to a doctor, who confirmed Pascal had a rare congenital anomaly. His vocal cords would not lengthen and thicken. His voice today defies classification. He is not a countertenor, since he does not sing in falsetto. He is best described as a male soprano, although his range is greater than most sopranos, spanning four octaves. It is described by many as “unearthly.”
Pascal continued his studies with jazz workshops with renown singers of the form. He eventually went on to perform opera with companies worldwide, which included a lead role with Paris Opera.
He continues to sing with opera companies and troupes, whIch allows him to also perform dramatic acting roles. And he sings often at the historical and popular cabaret Aux Trois Mailletz , where he is indisputably the star performer. From Piaf to Prince, he adds his own inimitable style, and can riff and do scat in the music of many genres, cultures and languages.
Outside of Paris, he is virtually unknown, having never been promoted elsewhere. But in October 2009, while on holiday in San Francisco, he sang at a event honoring a friend. His performance sent the audience to its feet. Some wept and said his voice was the most beautiful they had ever heard. “The voice of an angel,” wrote one listener. Offers of help came to have him return to perform his own show. In February 2010, he will make his U.S. debut at San Francisco’s premiere jazz club, Yoshi’s, an auspicious start for the career of a singer who no doubt will reach audiences worldwide.
A note from Amy Tan
I’ve been a lucky person. I had the luck to meet the right mentor, who introduced me to the right literary agent, who then introduced me to the right editor. They were all people who believed in me. When my first book, The Joy Luck Club, made its debut, no one could have anticipated the reception it received.
I was incredibly lucky. I am not denigrating my skills, but I cannot say that it was my work alone that led to where I am today as a published writer. I know of talented writers who have had difficulty getting attention. It is not an equitable world when it comes to talent and the dispensation of luck.
So what is it about luck? Where does it come from? And why do some have it bestowed on them and others do not?
I thought about this when I was in Paris in the summer of 2009. I was in a cabaret and heard a number of great performers. And then one singer took the stage and my jaw dropped. The voice was gorgeous, the technique amazing, but it was the emotional resonance, its authenticity, that left me breathless.
Okay, I admit that at first I thought the singer was a woman wearing a unflattering outfit, one that did absolutely nothing for her figure, which was, hmm, rather flat-chested. About halfway through the song, I realized the soprano voice did not belong to a woman but to a man with a timbre unlike any other I had heard. The singer was Pascal Toussaint.
I have been involved in the opera world, and I have been able to work with some of the greatest voices in the opera world, gorgeous, trained, huge voices. So I’m fairly picky about what I hear at the opera. I know a great voice when I hear one. And my tastes have run pretty true to what my opera singer and composer friends think. Was Pascal as good as I thought?
I had a chance to briefly chat with Pascal. Did he have a CD? No. Did he sing in the U.S. ? No, but he would like to. I wondered why he was not better known. Did he have a demo CD? No. Did he have video of him performing? No. Did he have a website? No.
In that short conversation, just hours before I had to catch a plane, I learned he had been classically trained, that he had sung opera. But how many roles were there for a young black singer with a soprano voice?
So what does it take to bring a little luck into the life of a incredibly talented French singer who can’t get on American Idol? I decided to find out. First thing, I called a friend, Kathi Goldmark, maven and founder of the literary garage band The Rock Bottom Remainders, as well as producer of the NPR radio show West Coast Live. By the way, the fact that she chose me to sing in the band is no reflection of her musical tastes. She was, in fact, the one who first heard Pascal and took me to the club to hear. So when I asked if she would let him sing a song or two on West Coast Live, she said, “You bet. “
And with that bit of luck, more started rolling in. People who heard him sing on West Coast Live also offered to help. An offer of a free recording studio. A pianist willing to play for free. With five demo songs, I now had something for the basis of a website. That led to Aa member of the Gay Men’s Chorus who wanted to introduce him to the chorus and director. .. a lyricist who wanted to send his demo to Broadway directors...a Broadway producer who wanted to send his demo to his director... A photographer who wanted to make a portrait...a writer who will do a feature for the local paper...
On February 28, 2010, Pascal will make his US debut, a solo show at San Francisco’s premiere jazz club Yoshi’s in San Francisco.
Luck has a curious way of generating more. It doesn’t happen without reason. In Pascal’s case, it all began with his voice.