Kermit Ruffins has said of himself that he could be from nowhere other than New Orleans. For many, he is the embodiment of the New Orleans sensibility: a laid back manner and easy smile, a love of good food and good music. The fact that he cooks food for his adoring audiences is a perfect illustration of the man's world view. Often likened to his inspiration, Louis Armstrong, this trumpeter and vocalist is doing his part to keep up the old traditions.
His play list features many Armstrong classics, like "What a Wonderful World," as well as popular songs from the past, such as Stuff Smith's "When You're a Viper." Always the crowd pleaser, Ruffins honors all requests in his good-natured way, and then mixes it up with something he has just composed.
Ruffins took up the trumpet when he was in junior high school. Like many of the city's brass musicians, Ruffins came under the influence of the late, great Danny Barker and his Fairview Baptist Church School for Brass Bands. Inspired by the convergence of the old brass band traditions and contemporary street sounds, Ruffins and fellow high-school student, tuba player Philip Frazier, founded the Rebirth Brass Band. Rebirth took its hot sound to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where they met with an enthusiastic response.
Ruffins continued to hone his sound, playing in the French Quarter, in parades, and on seven CDs with Rebirth, such as the 1992 recording Take It to the Street. Ruffins also appeared on the recordings of the Treme Brass Band, as well as other musical genres, from zydeco to Mardi Gras Indian music.
The young man on the move went on his own in 1992, forming his own group, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers. His new sound on World on a String drew praise and new fans.
Inspired by Cab Calloway, Ruffins enlarged his group to encompass a big band sound, which can be heard on the CD Swing This!, recorded in 1999. He downsized for his CD 1533 St. Philip Street, named after the address of his recording studio, Basin Street Records. The CD, featuring David Torkanowsky on piano and the clarinet of Dr. Michael White, serves up the usual mix of the old, such as "Black&Blue," and the new, like the trumpeter's "Drop Me Off in New Orleans." The trumpet star also appears on the third CD of Los Hombres Calientes, released in 2001.
Meanwhile, this ambassador of traditional New Orleans music is still performing at gigs at Donna's and the Funky Butt, cooking barbecue out of the back of his red pickup, and singing his signature tune, "Swingin' With Some Barbeque," for fans from all over the world. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer, All Music Guide