We Partyin’ Traditional Style
Reviewed by Jane Roser
Kermit Ruffins was wearing a gigantic Afro wig, red glasses and mardi gras beads when I first saw him perform at Donna’s, a popular music venue in New Orleans that sadly closed down after 20 years of being the home to brass bands and jazz music. It was Halloween 1995 and Ruffins had only released two albums. He had a larger than life persona and it came through swinging like a Storyville dance hall girl both on the stage and off. I remember chatting with him during the break and just being enthralled by his spirit and good sense of humor. He performed tunes off of his then latest album, The Big Butter and Egg Man, including his ode to a five foot long reefer “If You’re A Viper” and the frolicking “I’ll Drink Ta Dat”, one of four songs on that album written and performed by Ruffins. His first foray into commercial music started with his co-founding of the famous Rebirth Brass Band. A fabulous cook with an enormous love of good food, he named his next band the Barbecue Swingers, performing original music, as well as traditional New Orleans jazz standards.
We Partyin’ Traditional Style, Kermit Ruffins newest album released by Basin Street Records, does not disappoint. Covering late 19th and early 20th century classics, it starts out with bite and swagger jumping right into “Chinatown, My Chinatown”, a jubilant, up-tempo tune Ruffins sings with a fabulous throaty voice reminiscent of the great Louis Armstrong and of course, his undeniable joie de vivre style of trumpet playing. As a recurrent character (well, playing himself) on the HBO show “Treme”, the inclusion of the original tune “Treme Second Line” should come as no surprise. A carefree, fun number with ties to a New Orleans jazz parade tradition (the second line are the people who follow right behind the brass band and other members of the parade, enjoying the music and dancing along).
If you are looking for an album to start off your introduction to the glorious sounds of jazz music, then this is for you. Ruffins is a master of the genre and will make you feel as if you’re in Preservation Hall when you’re really just sitting on a recliner in your rec room.
Blues Americana singer/songwriter Ted Garber recalls his introduction to Ruffins’ music: I first heard Kermit’s playing one sunny Sunday in New Orleans during a second line parade for one of the local S&P clubs. I didn’t know his face, but I knew his name. He was the talk of the town from the streets to John Sinclair on WWOZ. I first heard the name from a mentor, the late Tom Dent, a prominent Civil Rights Activist, accomplished author, and the first Executive Director of the Jazz Heritage Foundation (the group that started the Jazz Fest). Tom lived in Treme, and we spent an entire afternoon at his house once talking about the “up and coming” folks in town. He was adamant that I get out and hear these acts. The closest to campus was Le Bons Temps bar Uptown, and he [Kermit Ruffins] played with “The Barbeque Swingers,” their namesake being the hot, smoky BBQ they’d cook up on the sidewalk during the show. No NOLA show is complete if there isn’t eating involved. A lot of Tulane students would go, too. The man not only played his ass off, but he knew how to lead a band, and he knew how to stir a crowd to a frenzy. You can’t ask for more than that.
And I’ll drink ta dat!