In New Orleans, as people know who have visited there, music is as vital an ingredient of the spirit of this incomparable American city as is the Mississippi River. Whether you’re eating beignets at the Café du Monde along the sidewalk in the morning, waiting in line to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, actually being one of the fortunate ones to witness some of the Mardi Gras parades (which are surprisingly family-oriented until the final night), celebrating New Year’s Eve at PatO’Brien’s, taking a streetcar ride to the Garden District, reveling in all of the music of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, enjoying the novelty acts in Jackson Square, attending a Saints football game or checking out the controlled mayhem and ribaldry of Bourbon Street, you’ll hear music. Bands play on street corners, they play in the parks, they play unannounced in restaurants, they play in crowds, a solitary trumpeter play alone against St. Louis Cathedral or a saxophonist outside the Pontalba Apartments, music flows out of the nightclubs onto the streets. Fortunately, New Orleans remains relatively uncorrupted by the homogenization of American culture and retains much of its spirit from the time that jazz was first catalyzed there from the variety of influences converging on that city and before it moved up the Mississippi River to spread to the rest of the world. And the leading figure in the spread of jazz from a local phenomenon to was Louis Armstrong.
Appropriately enough, Kermit Ruffins’ primary influence was Louis Armstrong, and much of it comes through on his latest release on Putumayo Records, from "Bye and Bye," to which Ruffins adds a gospel choir in addition to the trombone and banjo, to "Ain’t Misbehavin’," complete with licks directly derivative from Pops. In addition, Ruffins’ defunct club at 1533 St. Phillip Street his long-sought opportunity to combine his love of music and serving food in the companionship of his Barbecue Swingers was located just past Louis Armstrong park off Rampart Street. I tried to walk to it myself from the French Quarter once, which was a big mistake. For the section between Rampart Street and his club wasn’t hospitable to tourists, to say the least, and perhaps its being off the beaten path contributed to its demise. But a talent as irrepressible as Kermit Ruffins is bound to continue to thrive, for he embodies the feel of New Orleans jazz in all of his music, both in playing trumpet and in singing. And it appears from Ruffins’ latest Putumayo release that all of the musicians are intertwined from that city, performing on each others’ CD’s, for you’ll find the Marsalises, the Connicks, David Torkanowsky, Lucien Barbarin, Arthur Latin II, and others like Reginald Veal and Terence Blanchard going back to New Orleans, or remaining there, to play.
Ruffins, whose popularity ascended throughout the 1990’s, and he started to record on his own on first Justice Records and then Basin Street Records, on which he still records. But by putting together this compilation of selections from an assortment of past Ruffins CD’s, Putumayo founder Dan Stroper intends to introduce Ruffings to a larger audience and to interest them in the overbrimming sense of joy in his music.
While "Goodnight" contains the same sense of street march strutting that much of Ruffins’s other music possesses, surprisingly his own composition, "Leshianne," proves his ability to play a muted blues with subtlety and swing. But just as Mardi Gras is getting under way, and there’s no better time to get acquainted with the music of Kermit Ruffins as he starts into his busy season of entertaining locals and tourists atop floats or in the clubs. And so, no doubt Ruffins will be playing the last track of Putumayo Presents Kermit Ruffins,
"Do The Fat Tuesday," quite often in the weeks to come. Ruffins has remained in New Orleans while others have left for more lucrative careers like Wynton Marsalis’s, but his power to entertain is undiminished. And now with the release of the Putumayo CD, the rest of the country will be able to get a sense of the spirit that takes over the Crescent City every year at this time too.