Kermit Ruffins, “Sunny Side of the Street” (KDHX Studio, July 2013) - EASTER SUNDAY MUSIC (Big Easy edition)! There’s a popular historical narrative to the evolution of New Orleans music, how it mirrored and fueled the American century, while still retaining a local humanism and connection to the past much of the rest of our society loses with regularity. I’m sure the story is, for some, old hat at this point. But to a visitor, actually witnessing it first-hand, compacted into a 90-minute stretch of a random Thursday late-afternoon in the Crescent City, is jaw-dropping.
Here was a free-concert in a city park that billed together a current bounce artist (5th Ward Weebie), a local high-school marching band (Landry-Walker), and a modern New Orleans blower (trombonist/singer Glen David Andrews), like it was naturally part of the same extended idea (which it is) and often acknowledged as such (almost never). Weebie opened with a short-set that included his current hit “Let Me Find Out” (more about bounce in 2014 coming up), but the marching band that followed was beyond revelatory. It was a fourteen-strong drums and cymbals corps, directed by a t-shirt-clad drum-major standing to the side, barking rhythmic orders, essentially calling “next.” And the strings of rhythmic phrases the group spelled out were basically a shorthand history of NOLA drumming, from second-line and Satchmo’s man Baby Dodds, through to Earl Palmer and Mannie Fresh. Including one particularly spectacular breakbeat-loop aside that sounded, for all intents and purposes, like parts of Hawtin’s “Spastik”.
As an experience it was hard to top; yet, beat it (or match that beat) we tried, wandering over to the beginning of Kermit Ruffins’ gig at the newly reopened Mother-In-Law Lounge. (Traveling with a 3yr-old, you take what you can get.) It’s a legendary spot on N. Clairborne beneath I-10, opened by the singer Ernie K Doe in the 1990s, and named after his massive 1961 hit. Even after Ernie shuffled off this mortal coil in 2001, his widow Antoinette continued to operate the two-room spot with the stripper pole next to the bar-tables and the street-side barbecue in front; it became an institution/destination you go to hear and see immortals in, while getting sauced (or whatever your preference) while trying not to piss-off the locals (who still packed the joint). Since Antoinette passed away, and following a protracted civic…ummm…negotiation, Kermit Ruffins, massively popular local trumpeter and beloved media-friendly citizen of the Crescent City, bought the place, and holds court (at least) weekly, on Thursdays at 6p (toddlers kinda welcome, as long as you keep ‘em away from the bar and the scary drunks). For $10, one of the best jazz trumpeters in the world fronted a quartet (same one as in the video above, I believe), playing covers of songs Louis Armstrong recorded, skatting in a voice warmly ravaged by weed, taking solos and selfies, and continuing a tradition, or, maybe more to the point, refusing to let an idea die. It was a lesson — an awe-inspiring lesson.
So, yeah Easter Sunday, a day to make note of rebirth and of refusing a sometimes-great notion pass simply away. What better day to celebrate the sun coming back out.