Trumpeter, singer and all-around New Orleans entertainer Kermit Ruffins realized a long-cherished dream with the production of We Partyin’ Traditional Style! Featuring a bunch of his personal favorites from the traditional jazz canon, it’s an album guaranteed to raise a smile.
Ruffins and his band, the Barbecue Swingers, are swinging out with a CD release party Saturday at Tipitina’s. His singing daughter, Neshia Ruffins, a music student at Southern University in Baton Rouge, is on the bill, too.
“We’re going to be jamming that CD all the way through the rest of the year,” Ruffins said of the project he’s particularly proud of. “We were No. 12 on the Billboard jazz chart just the other day. So we’re looking to get to No. 1.”
We Partyin’ Traditional Style! contains “Jeepers Creepers,” “Careless Love,” “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” “All of Me,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and more perennials.
“A lot of them,” Ruffins said of the selections, “I heard Louis Armstrong do on records. And not only him. Those tunes have been around New Orleans forever.”
Shannon Powell, a drummer and percussionist mentored by the late Danny Barker, was the first musician Ruffins tapped to play for his tradition-based album.
“He’s definitely one of the last cats who is really, really trained in that tradition,” Ruffins said.
Powell brought pianist Steve Pistorius and clarinetist Tom Fischer to the project.
“I knew that Shannon knew right away who to get,” Ruffins said.
Don Vappie, another steeped-in-tradition player, adds the essential banjo to the album.
“Don is a genius at what he does,” Ruffins said. “I had to have Don.”
Trombone player Lucien Barbarin, a veteran of Harry Connick Jr.’s band and leader of his own group at the Palm Court Jazz Café, plus bassist Richard Moten completed the lineup.
“Lucien is one of the baddest,” Ruffins said. “A lot of young cats learn from Lucien by listening to his records. Like Corey Henry, one of my trombone players, that young guy plays his butt off.”
Once the songs and musicians were in place, Ruffins and company decamped to The Music Shed studio in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District.
“Man, I could tell that the guys were just as excited as me to be doing that record,” Ruffins enthused. “Once we started rolling the tape, almost every first take was it.
“It usually takes four, five, six days for most people do to a record. But these guys, they’ve been playing those tunes forever. And we wanted it to be for real. We didn’t want to play with it and fix it and all that. We wanted to get in there and act like we were on stage, in front of a huge audience, just playing traditional jazz. That’s what we did.”
When Ruffins told the record’s producers, Tracey Freeman and Basin Street Records owner Mark Samuels, his intention to nail the session quickly, “they got just as happy as the band got. And I showed up with the barbecue grill and a whole bunch of liquor and beer. Man, we had the biggest party in the studio.”
Ruffins loves the finished product, albeit with one slight reservation.
“I wish it could have been a little bit more old-sounding,” he said. “But I guess, in today’s age, I can only play the way I play and we could only get out of that group of people what we got out of them. And everybody did their best, so I can’t complain.”
Ruffins didn’t discover his idol, Louis Armstrong, until he was a trumpet-playing 19-year-old who’d founded the Rebirth Brass Band. The introduction came via a jukebox that held Armstrong’s recordings.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea who Louis Armstrong was. I pressed ‘When You’re Smiling’ on the jukebox. When I heard that, I went crazy on his record, on his style. I got my hands on every video of him that I could find. Me and the band would sit down every day after playing the Quarter for tips, and watch Louis Armstrong videos over and over again.”
Ruffins and his Rebirth Brass Band co-members also studied vintage film of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.
“But we always went back to Louis Armstrong,” he said. “So, of course, automatically I turn into Louis Armstrong. The way he dressed, the way he had fun on stage. I just fell in love with that being of a man. I said, ‘That’s the way a man’s supposed to be.’ In every aspect, just sincere and loving.
“And without those videos, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. Louis really changed my life in all kind of ways. Without even meeting him or shaking his hand, he was almost like my grandfather, telling me to do right.”
Ruffins’ busy New Orleans schedule, in addition to his CD release party Saturday at Tipitina’s (9:45 p.m.), includes appearances most Fridays at Blue Nile (7 p.m.), Sundays and Mondays at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy (6 p.m.), Tuesdays at Bullet’s Sports Bar (6 p.m.) and Thursdays at Vaughan’s Lounge (8 p.m.).