Just a few notes into Happy Talk, the latest release by New Orleans jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, I had this thought – my grandfather would have loved this record. Prior to his death three years ago, my grandfather was a lifelong fan of jazz, big band, and swing. And, living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the musical stylings of The Big Easy were always close at hand. So this record would have been right at home in his collection.
Ruffins can flat out blow a horn. Co-founder of The Rebirth Jazz Band, which he did while still in high school, Ruffins is a trumpeter, singer, and band leader cut from the mold of Louis Armstrong. And Armstrong would be proud of how Ruffins is carrying his torch.
Happy Talk does an excellent job of showcasing both Ruffins’ trumpet and vocal abilities, but the spotlight is also shared by other seminal jazz instruments. The disc opener, “Panama,” intertwines Ruffins’ trumpet with the clarinet work of Dr. Michael White, while the title track and “Sugar” both push Matt Lemmler and his piano to the forefront. Other highlights include Ruffins’ nine minute take on “If I Only Had a Brain,” of Wizard of Oz fame, and “New Orleans (My Home Town), his ode to the Crescent City.
Ruffins and his trumpet would have made my grandfather tap his foot and smile. Of this I am sure.
Happy Talk is out now on Basin Street Records.