Glen David Andrews Finds 'Redemption' In Music
I'm standing on the corner of St. Phillip and N. Robertson in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. It’s only noon but already the sun beats down and the air is thick with humidity. A bright red Cadillac pulls to the curb and a towering figure wearing a pastel polo shirt and a baseball cap emerges from the car. Before walking over to greet me the man runs back to his car and grabs a trombone, a move that may be seen as odd if we were in any other neighborhood in the world, but fairly common here in what is considered to be the birthplace of the most original American art form, jazz. Though we’ve spoken on the phone before, this is the first time I’m meeting Glen David Andrews in person and on his own turf.
Andrews is clearly excited to be showing me this historical place where he came of age as part of the legendary Andrews family, a New Orleans musical dynasty that, as Andrews puts it, are “part of the actual fabric that created jazz.” Along with his older brother Derrick Tabb, drummer for the venerable Rebirth Brass Band, and first cousin Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, as well as other cousins that include members of the New Birth, Hot 8, and Dirty Dozen brass bands, Glen David Andrews was raised in the vibrant second lines that paraded through the streets of the Tremé. It was here where the young musician received his education from masters like Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen and Danny Barker. Given his history, it makes sense that Andrews has chosen to meet with me at Tuba Fats Square, a small grassy plot of land with a picnic table and a sign honoring New Orleans’ most famous tuba player and an important mentor for him. Andrews fiddles with his trombone as he humorously reflects on an upbringing that would make any jazz lover cringe with excitement.
“My momma was second lining at a funeral and her water burst and Tuba Fats was blowing the tuba on her stomach - that's true! I learned jazz from the second generation behind the creators. I learned jazz from the guys who were responsible for the brass band revival. I've watched Tuba Fats, Dirty Dozen, all these people play in grandmother's barroom.”
Together we stroll the neighborhood past a colorful mix of sidehall and double shotgun houses, townhouses and Creole cottages, all of which carry a rich history of habitation that in some cases dates back hundreds of years to a time when, as Andrews puts it, Tremé was the first black neighborhood in the country. You can practically hear the music rising from the cracked sidewalks and drifting through the air from nearby Congo Square, now known as Louis Armstrong Park, the slave gathering spot where throughout the 1700 and 1800s Sunday dances and jams gave birth to what would become the foundations of jazz and just about every other style of American music.
The pride Andrews feels in this place comes across in his stories of growing up in a neighborhood that at one point in time was known more for its bustling clubs, frequent revelry, and staggering output of more incredible musicians than have come from any other place on earth. However, for Andrews there is an undercurrent of bittersweet running beneath his beaming pride. After all, it was also on these very streets where Andrews fell victim to drugs and alcohol, ultimately hitting rock bottom after years of addictions that nearly cost him his career in music.
“My life began revolving around getting high. My talent succumbed to that because all of my focus was on getting high. Instead of playing music with the passion and fire I had when I was a young man, I played music with the purpose of making enough money to keep an addiction going,” says Andrews, pointing out spots where used to score.
Life works in mysterious ways, and sometimes it takes a tragic and painful fall from grace for us to realize how sacred our time really is, which brings us to the topic of Andrews’ new album, the aptly titled Redemption.
“Sometimes the worst things in your life happen for the best reasons. People take that statement for granted, but I actually believe that everything happens for a reason. Now I'm a better brother, a better cousin, a great bandleader, a professional businessman - but I had to go through all that,” says Andrews.
The cover of Redemption is a radiantly colored painting by Varion Laurent depicting Andrews singing his heart out on the streets of Tremé as if his life depends on it, and in a way it does. Like the title suggests, the album is a heartfelt portrayal of the struggles that landed Andrews in rehab and his triumphant return from those dark times or, as Andrews puts it, his “journey from the living dead” summed up through music and lyrics in a way that’s “blunt and honest.” Though he is quick to point out that his “main goal was not to saturate Redemption with guests,” the album features a handful of appearances from high profile New Orleans acts. Perhaps the most significant is that of guitarist Anders Osborne on “Lower Power” and Ivan Neville on “Bad By Myself,” two musicians who have “been on their own personal road to redemption” and have experienced major career rebounds and success after years of substance abuse.
On opening track “NY to NOLA” you are struck by the bluesy harmonica playing of Galactic’s Ben Ellman backing Andrews as he bares himself, boldly referencing his checkered past when he sings, “My life is like a mockery/Dope deals and robbery/Keep having dreams of demons in my sleep.” From there the album heads in a more uplifting direction as Andrews uses his robust vocals to belt out soulful tunes about taking control of his life and returning to music with a new sense of vigor.
“I was raised up as a musician, not one of these commercial musicians, but as a real musician. I believe that real music lovers don't want to hear about gold chains and diamond rings and all this crazy shit; they want to hear about your life,” says Andrews.
The album, which was produced by Leo Sacks, who won a 2014 Grammy for his work on Bill Withers: The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums, carries a tone of determined optimism, which is further accentuated by Andrews and his band’s unique brass-driven funk interwoven with elements of blues, gospel, R&B, hip-hop, and rock. The musical influences of New Orleans are unmistakable on Redemption, but Andrews feels it’s important to mention that it is by no means a “New Orleans” album. He sees the music from a wider perspective that stretches beyond his beloved city.
Listen to Redemption and you can feel the sentiment behind this mentality. Andrews is putting everything he has into sharing his story with the world, and if he stays on this upward trajectory it won’t be long before the whole world is dancing right along with him. Like any true entertainer, Andrews knows that part of this is giving his audience a live show to remember, and his optimism convinces you that he is in this 100%.
“Every time I hit the stage I imagine that I'm playing in an arena. I don't imagine that I'm playing in a small club, so when I get to arenas I'll be comfortable. I love to perform - there is nothing else on this earth that I want to ever do than wake up every day, play music, go from city to city, and write,” says Andrews.
Our walk through the Tremé brings us back to Tuba Fats Square, but there’s one last stop we have to make. Andrews leads me under the I-10 highway that years ago sliced through this neighborhood - a wound that still hurts for those old enough to remember - forever altering the culture that made the Tremé such a special place. We enter the Black Pearl, a soul food restaurant renowned in the local community. Over a savory meal of red beans and rice, fried chicken, and corn bread, I can’t help but ask Andrews how he got his nickname, “Prince of Tremé.” He laughs before offering a theory that not only sheds light on the musical culture he was raised in, but also sums up his ambitious approach to his own career and his road to redemption.
< --- Eating at the Black Pearl
“Shannon Powell called himself the king of Tremé, and some people think Trombone Shorty's the king. I'm like, that's cool, but I don't want to be king because when you're the king everybody's trying to take your crown. When you're the crowned prince you're next in line, and it's about earning it.”
Back at Tuba Fats Square Glen David, Andrews looks deep in thought as he stares at the park he helped build in honor of his hero and mentor. As we shake hands and say goodbye, it’s clear that this musician is determined to do more than simply honor those that have come before. Much like the many members of his family have done for years and years, Glen David Andrews is on a mission to forge his own legacy, and Redemption is only the beginning.
Photos: Arthur VanRooy
For more on Glen David Andrews, including upcoming tour dates, check out glendavidandrewsband.com
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