The Performance of a Lifetime, Impromptu Improv with a Piano Legend

One fortunate and unsuspecting Mountain Lakes native and Allen Toussaint fan had the experience of a lifetime last weekend.

Michael LoBiondo gave the performance of a lifetime last Saturday night at Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. And he hadn’t even practiced for it.

That was because the Mountain Lakes native had no idea that he would be part of the  which he later called “one of the best live shows I’ve been to in a long time.”

During Toussaint's set, one minute LoBiondo was dancing along watching the jazz piano legend gingerly plop his fingers back and forth between classic blues chords. The next he was sharing the bench and improvising on the Steinway grand piano with the legend himself.

Unexpectedly, about halfway through his set, Toussaint turned to the crowd and asked the audience who played piano. Instinctively, LoBiondo shot his hand up in the air and Toussaint picked him.

At first, the 28-year-old man, who now lives in New York City, was hesitant and said no. Then the woman next to him said, “’If you don't go up, you'll forever be known as the guy who said no to Allen Toussaint,’" LoBiondo said.  “That kind of sealed it.”

He joined Toussaint and played a basic C blues chord progression. Toussaint played the accompaniment and LoBiondo improvised.

“I tried to watch his chord changes as best I could and we were mimicking each other's style as much as possible.  He would play soft, so I would play soft.  I would play a lick and he would follow.  It was completely spontaneous and probably the purest music I've ever played,” LoBiondo said.

With his adrenaline pumping, the experience was a bit of a blur to LoBiondo. But to audience members, he sounded like a pro and they kept cheering and clapping throughout the song. 

“All I know is I had a blast up there. And I think Allen liked it, which is the highest compliment I could get.”

LoBiondo started playing piano as a 6-year-old in Mountain Lakes. He took formal lessons from pianist and teacher Michael Palmieri and played a lot of Billy Joel growing up, but learned the blues listening to Ray Charles, Wynton Marsalis, J. J. Johnson and other famous musicians.

“It's pretty hard to learn blues piano without knowing Allen Toussaint.” LoBiondo said. “Seeing him live and having the opportunity to get on stage with him gives me a whole new appreciation for his music.”

LoBiondo, who was a music major at Bowdoin College and focused on music composition, currently works as an analyst at the Warner Group in Manhattan.

The night only got better for LoBiono. Following his performance with Toussaint the main act came on stage, New Orleans’ brassy, jazzy, funk band Galactic.

“My girlfriend went to school in New Orleans and loves Galactic, but no amount of listening to them online could have prepared me for Saturday night.  I'm a big fan of anything with a brass section and Galactic took the energy to a whole different level.  They were dishing out some serious funk and the crowd was going nuts. And Allen Toussaint, Corey Glover and Galactic on stage together isn't something you see everyday.”

Read more about the show here.

To check out what is playing at the Capitol Theatre, click here

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