Friday, July 2, 2010

BBQ Swingin' with Benitals

I smell a new cooking/music show.... Right before the long holiday weekend, here's another post from friend of the site, Ben(itals).

For anyone smart/well-off enough to have HBO, hopefully you've been watching David Simon's new show, Treme, named for the historically significant Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans. Set in months post Katrina, the show follows several characters' lives as the city's people struggle to rebuild their infrastructure and culture. A huge part of New Orleans' culture, and thankfully a huge part of the show, is music. Many of the show's principals are musicians, and right from opening credits, every episode is packed with classic Big Easy sounds.

Let me do you a favor, it's pronounced Tre-may

Until a few months ago, N'awlins had skirted my musical radar. I explored some Zydeco (thanks to a one Matthew J.), which was great, but not as much the booming, brassy, driving sounds that characterize the repertoire of much of the city's musicians. Treme has plenty. From parades to airport bands to funerals, the music is an integral part of the city, and the show. The producers go out of their way to make it authentic, and big cameos by the likes of Dr. John and Elvis Costello make that apparent. After becoming fascinated with the new genre, I started poking around the ol' internets for more. I began to see familiar faces, aside from the celebrities I had already recognized. It turns out, the show features many hometown New Orleans musicians, some of whom have sustained roles and appearances episode to episode.

One man in particular stands out to me. Kermit Ruffins is a local trumpet player, who although being fairly well known in the jazz/swing/brass community, I did not recognize by sight or name. He has a fairly prominent role in Treme playing himself, and is featured in many of the show's musical interludes. With his permanent grin and raspy, memorable voice, he's a natural character, as well as a fantastic player, and a joy to watch on the screen, blowing or otherwise.

Kermit started playing trumpet in the 8th grade at his school in the 9th ward of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, and started the Rebirth Brass Band while still in high school in the 6th ward. He has since moved on from the Brass Band to the Barbecue Swingers, a tradition jazz quintet he founded in 1992. They are well known for hosting concerts at which Kermit will even cook and serve food to the guests. He and the Swingers still play every Thursday night at Vaughan's Bar, a popular venue in New Orleans. If I didn't like him enough already, Ruffins has said he loves drinking Bud Light, and says Amsterdam is his second favorite place to perform outside of the Big Easy. Kermit describes his style as "New Orleans traditional jazz." It's "hard swingin', real dancable," it's loud, vibrant and upbeat. I can (and sometimes do) listen to it all day. New Orleans has always been on my "list," but I'm going to make a serious effort get there in the near future, maybe catch the next Mardi Gras. I'm a little embarrassed that a city as rich in unique musical talent and culture has escaped me for so long. Check out these two tracks, the first of which is straight out of episode 5 of Treme. The second is off a 2005's Rebirth Brass Band album, featuring Ruffins, who hadn't played with the band in years, called Throwback. If you don't want to spend the next 3 weeks spinning nothing but loud, horn centric, slammin' tracks, don't bother listening to these....

Song #209: Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band - Mr. Big Stuff
(cant play the song?)

1 comment:

  1. I am so happy you know of Kermit. He is picking up where Louis Armstrong left off. And - claim to fame alert!!! - he opened for my collaborator Kate's erstwhile band Funky Butter at World Cafe Live (where you saw our Laura Nyro show) a few summers ago. He was so much fun in concert - great show, great vibes, great band. And hear he kicks ass in the BBQ realm.

    Happy listening.

    Remain cool.