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Kermit Ruffins Spreads the Word

Franz A. Matzner By

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Demonstrating his flexibility as a performer, New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Kermit Ruffins brought his Barbecue Swingers to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage for a free concert last week and found himself greeted by the distinctive blend of audience members one can only find at the Kennedy Center's Millennium stage.

Featuring free concerts daily, the Millennium Stage draws a diverse mix of tour groups, aficionados, students, families, retirees, opera fans arriving early, and sundry other individuals from all over the country and the world who have come to visit the Kennedy Center. In short, an ideal showing for a jazz proselytizer like Ruffins, dedicated both to putting on an entertaining performance and to spreading the message of swing-jazz revivalism to new audiences.

Deploying his trumpet skills and vocal stylings in equal measure, Ruffins took advantage of this opportunity to guide the audience on a tour of old-school jazz classics, like "Pennies From Heaven , "What A Wonderful World , "and "Ain't Misbehavin' . A devotee of Louis Armstrong, Ruffins has shaped his sound, performance style, and stage demeanor into a careful homage to the great master, as well as an era of music he clearly feels lies at the center of jazz. Ruffins and his band-mates are canny enough musicians, however, to infuse just enough modern spirit into their arrangements to keep the music from becoming a stale exercise. And while Ruffins is obviously the driving force behind the Barbecue Swingers, he is also a leader with enough experience to know how to share the spotlight'"especially when someone is having a particularly good night.

Stealing the show, that person was trombonist Corey Henry. From start to finish, Henry blasted out one riveting solo after another, impressing the audience over and over again with his energy, force, and clever manner. Twisting inventively through the classic tunes without violating their integrity, Henry peaked with an insightful and refined solo during "What A Wonderful World . Henry then wowed the audience further, taking the lead on an untitled instrumental featuring his pyrotechnic skills.

It appeared to take a few songs for the crowd to fully warm up to Ruffin's merry, anything-goes attitude, but by the end of the show, the kids were clapping on their parents' laps, couples were dancing, and the whole audience was having a good time. Indeed, at Ruffins' urging, the crowd of assorted folks eventually ended up on its feet, "partying New Orleans Style .

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