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Next up: The Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival!

5th December 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

There was a time, people say, that the neighborhood was simply called the 6th Ward. “Nobody knew nothin’ about no Tremé,” it’s been exclaimed. Now the Tremé enjoys a reputation for the things that it always held dear — brass bands, second lines, Mardi Gras Indians, clubs, food, churches and most of all the people. It holds an aura. It has also become famous nationally, having been introduced by the HBO series, “Tremé.

On Saturday, December 10, the area will be celebrated at the Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival, the last of the musical events for the year presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. It takes place in back of the Foundation’s center, 1225 N. Rampart, in the very neighborhood that it honors. That makes the function particularly close to the heart.

The line-up includes many musicians who were born, reared and honed their skills in the neighborhood. Aptly, the Tremé Brass Band, which includes leader/snare man Benny Jones and bass drummer Uncle Lionel Batiste who both grew up in Tremé, opens the free festivities at 11 a.m. Next up at noon is drummer Shannon Powell, who spent his lifetime there and still lives on St. Philip Street across from Armstrong Park. He has credited growing up next to the sanctified church, St. Philip’s Church of God, as where he learned to play tambourine.

The students attending the Heritage School of Music, an after-school program sponsored by the Foundation, show off their talents at 1:30 followed by what’s being dubbed “The Characters of ‘Tremé’.” The band is made up of musicians who have been seen on the television series including John Boutte, Davis Rogan, Tom McDermott, Matt Perrine and more.

The Andrews name remains infamous in the Tremé neighborhood and the dynamic trombonist/vocalist Glen David Andrews will represent the family’s deep roots in the locale. The sound of brass closes the celebration with the ReBirth Brass Band, which formed in 1983 at the Tremé’s Joseph S. Clark High School.

Naturally, gumbo is a star with many varieties offered including Creole file gumbo from just down the street at Lil’ Dizzy’s Cafe. Both bowls and tasting size portions will be available.

Kermit Goes Early Bird

The idea was hatched one evening when trumpeter/vocalist Kermit Ruffins stood outside of Bullet’s after performing his regular Tuesday night show. “If all my gigs were like this…” Ruffins remembers fantasizing. Unlike most of his jobs, the shows at Bullet’s start early at 7 p.m. and thus end early at 10 p.m. or so.

Ruffins made most of his wish come true. Starting in December his weekly performances — Thursday at Vaughn’s and now Fridays at the Blue Nile – will kick off at 7 p.m. The only hold-out is the Rock ‘n Bowl where he appears only about once a month. That still might happen gradually.

“Nobody’s complained,” Ruffins says of the reaction by both fans and club owners. “Everyone is so excited but I don’t think anyone is more excited than me.”

While the trumpeter has boasted a reputation as a late-night guy, he says that folks who really know him are aware that he’s always enjoyed his daytime activities. His favorite routine is bringing his daughter to school, taking care of business by 11 a.m. and maybe going out to lunch and drinking a couple of beers and heading home by 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. “Having a good old day,” Ruffins exclaims. “Yes, indeed-dee.”

Playing early at Vaughn’s, where Ruffins has held court for more than 20 years, probably represents the most radical change. That’s especially true for those who remember seeing the sunrise there in the early years with such notables as bassist Chuck Badie, Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. and Jazz Tent producer Charlie Bering hanging at the bar.

“Cindy is begging me for 8 o’clock,” Ruffins says of Vaughn’s owner Cindy Wood. In an appeasement of sorts, most Thursday nights the trumpeter plans to bring his famous barbecue grill out at 6 p.m. and do some deejaying. “People that are sacrificing their dinnertime can have a little bite to eat,” he explains.

Ditto for his Friday nights at the Blue Nile where another act will follow his set.

“There will be somebody like the Soul Rebels at 11 o’clock. We’ve got a big double bill. I’ll be able to stand there and listen to the Soul Rebels for an hour and still wake up good. It’s crazy to miss every weekend for a few bucks.”

In the last two years, Ruffins made another major change in his lifestyle. Some personal problems depleted his appetite and though he continued to cook up some mean hot sausages on his grill, he began favoring mostly fish and salad. “Then I started feeling so good eating like that that I just continued to do it. Every now and then I’ll get me a filet mignon from Ruth’s Chris Steak House,” he adds with a laugh.

The result is a slimmed down physique – he went from a pant size 36 to 34 and now 32. “The best part that I like is that I don’t have that big stomach like I used to – that old beer belly look.”

In other Ruffins news, the trumpeter awaits January’s City Council meeting that will determine whether the famous Mother-in-Law Lounge, which he leased, can be rezoned in order to get a liquor license. “I’ve been eating the rent over there,” says Ruffins whose initial request was rejected because he didn’t open the club within six months, a requirement, of which he was unaware, in order for it to be grand-fathered in. “I’m looking forward to getting that place open so I can get some of my money back. Something like K-Doe’s they should go out of their way to help me hurry up and open.”

In the next three weeks or so, Ruffins also anticipates introducing his latest endeavor, Kermit’s Tremé Speakeasy, a restaurant and club located on Basin and North Robertson that was formerly Jezebel’s. “I’ll be opening up with some big ass burgers and potatoes like Port of Call,” he excitedly says, adding that there will also be daily specials and a daily happy hour featuring musical duets.

Louisiana Garners Nominations

Locals will have a group of quite diverse musicians to root for when the 54th Annual Grammy Awards take place on February 12, 2012. Those hailing from New Orleans proper include the ReBirth Brass Band that was nominated for its hot release ReBirth of New Orleans. It’s in a new category, Best Regional Roots Album, which, in part, replaced the Cajun/Zydeco classification this year. Thus, the ReBirth goes up against southwest Louisiana favorites accordionist C. J. Chenier, who was named for his ultimately danceable CD, Can’t Sit Down and the talented Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys for Grand Isle.

Our own Lil Wayne chalked up a big one with his Tha Carter IV, which is on the list for Best Rap Album. He’s also named for Best Rap Song for “Look at Me Now,” in collaboration with Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes. Harry Connick, Jr. got the nod for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for his release, In Concert on Broadway.

Ledisi, who was born and began singing here, also scored big earning nominations in three categories including Best R&B album for her 2011 CD, Pieces of Me.

Something New for the Season

St. Augustine Church brings in the spirit of the season by presenting free Saturday evening concerts for the next two weeks. On December 10, the wonderful jazz vocalist Leah Chase appears at 4 p.m. in the historic Tremé church, the oldest African-American Catholic church in the United States. The following Saturday, December 17, the always-exuberant trombonist/vocalist Glen David Andrews is sure to inspire.

Free parking is available in the lot next to St. Augustine Church, 1210 Gov. Nicholls.

This article was originally published in the December 5, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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