Glen David Andrews is one of the most exciting performers I’ve ever seen. Part rock star and part Pentecostal preacher, Andrews takes audiences on a musical and spiritual journey with a combination of gospel, funk and New Orleans jazz. Andrews brings along the spirit of New Orleans with him wherever he goes. The last time I saw Andrews at Marion Court Room he took the audience on a second line-style parade through the bar, out the door and around the block. I spoke with Andrews in August of 2013 and he talked about rebuilding his career after a lengthy battle with addiction and his very personal and soulful album Redemption.
From the vault – our August 2013 story on Glen David Andrews
The music falls apart. Drumbeats fall out of rhythm and dissipate. Trombones groan. And people are yelling in the street. Then all that’s left are the revolving lights from police cruisers.
Glen David Andrews is getting arrested. Again. But this time is different because when the director yells, “Cut!” Andrews is free to go.
HBO’s Treme is a show focusing on the tribulations of post-Katrina New Orleans and this scene (aired in 2012) is based on an incident take directly from Glen David Andrew’s real life. In October 2007, Andrews and his brother, Derrick Tabbs, were arrested for participating in a memorial parade for their friend who had become yet another murder victim in a city where the murder rate is 10 times the national average.
Memorial parades often result in clashes between musicians, second line marchers and the police over noise ordinances, resulting in arrests. It’s particularly common in the Treme neighborhood, the birthplace of jazz, where Andrews was born and raised.
Through his music, Andrews honors the traditions that were born in Treme, like jazz funerals, marching parades, and the ornately costumed Mardi Gras Indians. He will always stay true to his hometown, he says, though he rarely goes back to Treme these days.
Today, Andrews is one year sober and stays away from his old haunts. Protecting his sobriety is extremely important. After years struggling with addiction and very public legal problems – some related to his addiction, others resulting from the ongoing struggle between the New Orleans city government and the street performers – Andrews is focused on putting the past behind him. He has quit smoking and is eating healthy, growing his own vegetables in his garden. He tenderly cares for his spinach and kale, though they seem to be ravaged by some unseen parasite. Andrews is humbler now. But most of all Andrews is putting his energy into creating music.
“My main focus,” he says “is just playin’ that damn horn.” He performs his over-the-top live shows four or five times a week, working with some of the biggest names in music, practicing with his band, writing new songs and recording them for his album Redemption, that is due out sometime in October.
The Andrews family holds a long, rich tradition of New Orleans music. Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty), members of the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band and members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are all cousins of Andrews, and he has been absorbing music from the day he way born.
Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen was one musician who touched Andrews in a very personal way, and became his mentor and friend. “Tuba Fats was one of the people who brought me into this world,” Andrews says. And he means it quite literally, “Tuba’s band made a parade stop by my grandmother’s house and my mother came out and danced her second line routine, and Tuba rubbed his horn all over her (pregnant) belly.” The next day Andrews was born.
Fast-forward 16 years and Andrews began touring the world with Lacen and his band. Andrews made the trip to South Africa on Lacen’s last-ever tour, where they were special guests of the King of the Zulu. He played with Lacen every day in New Orleans’ Jackson Square or while on tour. Andrews was even with Lacen on the day he passed away.
It’s with the spirit of Tuba Fats and other great New Orleans musicians like Louis Armstrong that Andrews carries on the music of the city he loves. Armstrong’s spirit hovers over him like a friendly ghost. When he got the chance to tour Armstrong’s New York home, he was overwhelmed by the peaceful presence he felt there. “I’ve been to the Vatican,” says Andrews, “but Louis Armstrong’s home, was the most spiritual place I’ve ever been.”
As much as he loves traditional jazz, he is equally concerned with evolving with new music. Andrews recently did some studio sessions with electronic dance superstar Pretty Lights, and the experience opened his eyes to even greater musical possibilities.
Nearly as year has passed since the airing of the Treme episode, and Andrews is sweating. That’s a normal sight if you go see the renowned horn player’s live show. His high-energy performances feature moments of pure rocking raw energy where he becomes a cross between rock star and Pentecostal preacher. “All my shows got to be a 10! I’m here to wear your ass out!” he exclaims.
But right now, Andrews is sweating because he is nearing the end of his daily five-mile run and he is struggling to finish. He is meditatively focusing on moving one foot ahead of the other. He is happily and humbly moving forward. “I feel like I have a new lease on life!” he says.
Catch Glen David Andrews at Marion Court Room (7 Marion Court, Lancaster) on Sunday, June 14. 2 p.m. $15 at the door. 21+ Click here for tickets.