Kermit Ruffins, co-founder of Rebirth Brass Band, famed American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer will be visiting the Capitol City for a special performance downtown at Ruffins' Downtown Daiquiri Lounge on Thursday, March 9th.
Notice a connection? A love for entertaining runs in the family roots. Kermit's brother, Lloyd Ruffins, opened up Downtown Daiquiri Lounge in 2015. He's allowed his venue to serve as a hub for musicians of all genres in our city, hoping to expand the presence of entertainment downtown.
Kermit and Lloyd proudly present a night of authentic New Orleans jazz. Dedicated to preserving the tradition of jazz, Kermit is especially elated to share the stage with the BR community. This NOLA icon sat down for an interview with music journalist, Kelley Crawford, to tell us a bit more about his trajectory.
Kermit Ruffins’ Tuesday morning started off like a lot of other people’s – he woke up, ran a little bit late, headed off to work. Except for Ruffins, work meant collaborating at the studio with Trombone Shorty, Irvin Mayfield and Dr. John for an upcoming Basin Street Records 20th anniversary album.
Ruffins plays Ruffins’ Downtown Daiquiris Lounge (owned by his brother, Lloyd) at 602 Main Street on Thursday night. The show begins at 7pm and tickets are $15.
The trumpet player first became known as a founding member of Rebirth Brass Band. The group toured the world representing New Orleans’ classic party sound and ushered in a new era of modern brass bands.
Ruffins founded the outfit while he was still in high school – an 11th grader. That may sound young, but like so many musicians from New Orleans, he was already well-versed in music and his chosen instrument, the trumpet, by then.
“My dad played a little trumpet, but mostly my Uncle Percy would come over to our house when I was about 6-years-old and I would play his trumpet,” said Ruffins.
He learned from a reliable teacher – his uncle is Percy Williams. Williams is known for performing as Irma Thomas’ trumpet player, as well as with other acts.
“Running around the house as little kids, we’d be practicing,” said Ruffins. “Then right about when I was 14-years-old, my mom got me and my brother trumpets and we joined the marching band.”
Kermit and Lloyd performed in traditional Mardi Gras parades throughout New Orleans and participated in state music competitions.
“Then I went to high school – in the heart of Treme – and started Rebirth in 11th grade,” he said. “Before you know it, we’re off to Japan, off to Europe – everywhere.”
Ruffins spent years touring with the band, headlining shows and festivals. It allowed him the opportunity to work with some of his childhood inspirations and musical heroes.
“We played every festival in Europe 15 summers in a row – I got to meet Lionel Hampton and Dizzie Gillespie,” Ruffins said. “After sitting down in New Orleans as a kid watching videos of them, then we were on the road traveling on the same bus – that’s crazy.”
Ruffins, who owns his own bar in New Orleans, Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge, has a big screen in the establishment where he regularly revisits the pastime of his youth.
“We still meet up at the bar and sit down and go to YouTube and watch videos of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis all day long,” he said.
After years of running the roads, Ruffins tired of the touring musician’s life and longed to have his roots planted in New Orleans again.
“Why leave when you’re already at the party,” he joked of his decision to return full-time to his hometown.
He now hosts residencies at venues across town, including weekly spots at Blue Nile and Little Gem’s Saloon. His band plays his Treme bar during festival times.
“I’m surprised [Lloyd] got into this business because he was more of a quiet kind of person – never really went out to clubs or anything like that,” said Ruffins. “I might go to four bars in one night listening to bands and sitting in, but he was more quiet.”
As a musician, Ruffins loves the atmosphere of his brother’s venue.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” Ruffins said of the room he has played a half dozen times.
On Thursday, Ruffins returns with his regular band members, some of which have performed with him – at least off and on – for decades. The musical intimacy they’ve built over the years allows them plenty of room to improvise during their sets.
“We always start with old New Orleanian traditional sound and then in the middle we’ll break off and start doing some funk that maybe we heard the day before – it’s real spur-of-the-moment fun,” Ruffins said. “I never have a playlist. I just feed off the crowd. I’ll play a song and see how they react – before I finish the first song I know what’ I’m gonna play next.”
In every performance, Ruffins let’s the song do the talking.
“I think the thing I always try to do is make sure I keep simplicity no matter what,” said Ruffins. “Simple melody, simple words – just staying in the pocket in that traditional New Orleans style.”
Interview by Kelley Crawford
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