Ruffins celebrates Fall Ball at Tipitina’s

Michael Farrar

Special to theadvocate.com

Kermit Ruffins
Kermit Ruffins

He’s made appearances on the critically acclaimed HBO series “Treme,” but that’s not why Tipitina’s will be packed with fans on Friday, Nov. 16 for Kermit Ruffins’ Fall Ball. They will come for the music and the fun that Ruffins brings to every show.

“Basically, we’re going to get up there and just have the time of our life!” Ruffins said.

Besides great jazz and one-of-a-kind showmanship, the concert is a celebration of a special anniversary for Ruffins and the New Orleans-based record label Basin Street Records. Ruffins recorded a live-performance CD for the label at Tipitina’s 15 years ago. That album, called “The Barbeque Swingers Live,” was the first in a long line of music by Ruffins released on the Basin Street label since 1997.

“My manager, Tom Thompson and my good friend Mark Samuels came together and started a record company. There is nothing like dealing with good local people,” Ruffins said.

“We could have signed with Verve records or one of those New York record companies. They would’ve had a lot of crazy demands and strict policies, and really don’t know New Orleans music.” Ruffins said.

Ruffins knows the Crescent City’s rich musical traditions. In fact, he saw his first jazz funeral at the age of 9.

“Going down on Bourbon Street, watching all the elderly guys with their suits and ties on, playing that real swing music, and I kind of fell in love with it,” Ruffin said.

Later, while attending Joseph F. Clark senior high school, Ruffins helped start the Rebirth Brass Band, which mixed vintage New Orleans jazz with modern funk and hip hop. However, after 10 years, he tired of touring with the band to far away places. Ruffins got off the road to focus on New Orleans clubs, parades and jazz funerals. It seemed risky at first, but starting the Barbeque Swingers quintet to perform traditional jazz paid off.

“I realized right away that I could make a real good living playing the swing music (and) staying at home rather than traveling the world,” Ruffins said.

Ruffins further explained that he felt lucky to be a father seeing his children grow up while he built a following of local residents and tourists.

One of the visitors who appreciated Ruffins’ music and charisma was television producer and writer David Simon, who created “Treme.” The musician was surprised to find the producer had written a role into the series for Ruffins to play himself.

“The thing that David Simon did, he really captured me. It’s fiction, but it’s so realistic. I was reading the script, and I couldn’t believe that. It felt like somebody (had) been following me,” Ruffins said.

Ruffins’ TV role on “Treme” helps showcase his music to a much larger audience, but the musician doesn’t forget the things that made him successful.

“Playing the small neighborhood jazz bars and concentrating on that, being faithful to those gigs for years and years, that put me in the spotlight to play the role in ‘Treme’ because I was right here,” Ruffins said.

However, there will be no thoughts of successful TV shows when Ruffins hits the Tipitina’s stage for his Fall Ball. The event is simply a celebration of great music.

“We’re celebrating 15 years of Basin Street and that’s the only thing I’m going to have in my heart.”

Kermit Ruffins’ Fall Ball featuring Ingrid Lucia hits Tipitina’s Uptown, 501 Napoleon Ave., Friday, Nov. 16 at 10 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.tipitinas.com/events/kermit-ruffins-fall-ball.