Close your eyes and you might hear Louis Armstrong, both on his vocals and in his trumpet lines. An ebullient entertainer, Ruffins carries on in the tradition of Louis Jordan while also bringing the spirit of Satchmo and New Orleans to every bandstand. This is one Crescent City native who knows how to get the party started and keep it going all night long.
A bona fide goodwill ambassador for post-Katrina New Orleans, trumpeter-singer Kermit Ruffins continues to carry the spirit of Louis Armstrong in his performances around the world while also pushing the envelope into some new musical territory. On emulating Armstrong throughout his career, Ruffins says, “That’s someone who really led one of America’s true art forms. He was really the cherry on top of New Orleans music. Now I see it being passed on to younger kids, and for me to have a role in that and to maybe do the things he did is so spiritual to me.” Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers will spread the syncopated joy in their return engagement at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival.
A product of the Crescent City’s rich brass band tradition, Ruffins co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band in 1983 before launching his solo career with 1992’s World on a String, which included the Armstrong theme song “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” the Earl Hines theme song “Rosetta” and Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Georgia on My Mind.” He followed with 1993’s The Big Butter & Egg Man, which included the traditional “Li’l Liza Jane” along with retro renditions of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” and “If You’re a Viper.” Ruffins continued with a steady diet of standards and Armstrong nuggets on 1996’s Hold on Tight then introduced his Barbecue Swingers on 1998’s The Barbecue Swingers Live, recorded at the iconic New Orleans club, Tipitina’s. He followed in 1999 with the good-timey jive ‘n’ swing album Swing This, then channeled his inner Satchmo once again on 2002’s Big Easy. He was reunited with the Rebirth Brass Band on 2005’s Throwback.
Ruffin’s 2007 album Live at Vaughan’s was recorded at the Bywater club where Ruffins had a longstanding Thursday night weekly residency (and where he also cooked red beans and rice for the crowd). He continued waving the flag for Armstrong and the Crescent City on 2009’s Livin’ a Treme Life, 2010’s Happy Talk and 2013’s We Partyin’ Traditional Style. On 2015’s #Imsoneworleans, he saluted his hometown with renditions of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” and Sugarboy Crawford’s “Iock-A-Mo (Iko Iko). He later joined forces with fellow New Orleans trumpeter and Basin Street Records label mate Irvin Mayfield on 2017’s A Beautiful World, which included renditions of “When The Saints Go Marching” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and a cover of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Meanwhile, Ruffins has not been content to remain musically static. His live show has included elements of hip-hop since his days with Rebirth. He began rapping on albums long before it was commonplace for jazz musicians to have hip-hop influences. At age 53, the New Orleans trumpeter and goodwill ambassador shows no signs of slowing down.