Kermit Ruffins: Swingin' and Smilin'
Ruffins' deep love for all things New Orleans and with Tremé in particular is never more evident than in his most recent recording, Living a Tremé Life (Basin Street Records, 2009). Drawing from traditional New Orleans tunes like "Didn't He Ramble" and "I Ate Up The Apple Tree," to less traditional selections like the Isley Brothers' "For The Love Of You" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," Living A Tremé Life is Ruffins at his fun-loving, most swinging self. Moreover, local musicians Herlin Riley [drums], George Porter, Jr. [bass], Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews [trombone], and even the Rebirth Brass Band, among others, make this recording not only enjoyable, but also a significant work of post-Katrina New Orleans music [The disc debuted at #18 on the Billboard Jazz Charts and peaked at #11]. Most of all, this music is just plain fun for the listener, and Ruffins quickly relays just how much fun it was to make as well.
"I've got Herlin and George Porter playing on a few tunes. I've got 'em playing on "I Can See Cleary Now." And I've got 'em playing on "Holy Cow," that Lee Dorsey [song]bringing some of them old tunes back. I did a little Jesse Hill, "I Got Mine." Man, it was fun. It was a joy, man. Because one thing about New Orleans, we still do a lot of jam sessionsto the point where Wynton came and played with me at my record release party at the House of Blues during Jazz Fest. He just walked in, and there's Wynton standing right there, and that kind of stuff happens all the time."
Ruffins continues to spread the word about New Orleans and its traditions. Be it at home or on the road, his is a voice at the forefront of letting the world know that New Orleans is ready to play. "I just did something with Christian Scott [trumpet], James Andrews [trumpet], myself and Marlon Jordan [trumpet]. We did like a five-day tour around New York and around the areas up there. When I tell you it was a fun time with Herlin Riley on drums; Roland Guerin on bassI'm telling you we had a good time. We talked about doing it over and over again. Nothing yet, but I'm quite sure sooner or later we'll be doing some stuff like that."
In the meantime, Ruffins has found yet another way to bring the Tremé life to the world, acting as a consultant to the recently signed HBO series, Tremé. Based on the post-Katrina struggles of musicians in New Orleans, David Simon's Tremé features also features Ruffins playing himself in ten episodesboth of source of pride for Ruffins and a relief for New Orleanians worldwide that the series should be real.
"My biggest accomplishment in the making of the HBO show is that I've got a major role playing myself for ten episodes. We just shot the pilot. It's been five years in the making and it's finally hit the fan. Donald Harrison is playing himself, too. I tell you, it's like the biggest thing to hit New Orleans in a long, long time. David is so committed to making this realjust the meetings I had being a consultant, just sitting down telling stories, I knew they were serious about it."
It's easy to hear happiness in Kermit Ruffins' playing and singing. It's even easier to hear the joy in his voice as he talks about family, food and the music of his beloved New Orleans. And while it remains to be seen how history will judge Ruffins against the countless number of musicians and entertainers that have meant so much to New Orleans and the world, one thing is certain. Wherever Pops is, he's listening to Kermit Ruffins swing and he's smiling.
Kermit Ruffins, Livin' A Treme Life (Basin Street Records, 2009)
Kermit Ruffins, Live at Vaughan's (Basin Street Records, 2007)
Kermit Ruffins with the Rebirth Brass Band, Throwback (Basin Street Records, 2005)
Kermit Ruffins, Putumayo Presents: Kermit Ruffins (Putumayo World Music, 2005)
Kermit Ruffins, Big Easy (Basin Street Records, 2002)
Kermit Ruffins, 1533 St. Philip Street (Basin Street Records, 2001)
Kermit Ruffins, Swing This! (Basin Street Records, 1999)
Kermit Ruffins, Barbecue Swingers Live (Basin Street Records, 1998)
Kermit Ruffins, Hold On Tight (Justice Records, 1996)
Kermit Ruffins, Big Butter & Egg Man (Justice Records, 1994)
Kermit Ruffins, World On A String (Justice Records, 1992)