Reprinted from "Young Men With Horns" Jazziz, Sept 2008
by Larry Blumenfeld
In New Orleans, the city that gave the world jazz, a young trombone player and vocalist is proudly taking that style of music into the 21st Century. Glen David Andrews, 28, articulates his city’s deep musical heritage through his performing better than anyone his age. He has one foot planted in the more contemporary, funky sounds that define today’s New Orleans brass band scene; meanwhile, Andrews shows his elders the respect he believes they deserve, as his other foot rests firmly in the music’s time-honored traditions. “Traditional jazz, the way it was played 100 years ago, is dying out with my generation,” Andrews says. “And I’m not about to let that happen.” By combining the old with the new, Andrews has created a unique sound, one that is currently captivating New Orleans music fans. Andrews certainly possesses the pedigree to carry this illustrious New Orleans musical flame.
Growing up in the historic Treme section of the city, one of the first black neighborhoods in America, Andrews was immersed in the thick of New Orleans culture from the get go. Musical legends like Earl Palmer, James Black and George Lewis once walked his neighborhood’s streets and played in its clubs, as do some of today’s young lions, such as Nicholas Payton, Kermit Ruffins and Shannon Powell. Known by locals as the Sixth Ward, the Treme still hosts Second Line parades on most Sundays, with brass bands and dancers rambling through its bars and streets. These unique, celebratory occasions have been taking place in this neighborhood for at least a century. Into this scene came Glen David Andrews, eager to soak it all in. “I love it,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to grow up anywhere else.” Chances are that whatever band is leading one of these parades (the ReBirth, Li’l Rascals or the Newbirth Brass Band), a few of its members will likely share the same last name: Andrews. This family is currently producing highly talented young musicians at an astonishing rate. Glen David’s first cousins, James and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, are local favorites; so are Glen and Revert “Peanut” Andrews, who both hold court with the ReBirth Brass Band.
Since he began playing his instrument at age 13, Glen David has performed with almost every brass band in the city. His boisterous voice and warm trombone style are fixtures on the streets, and he adds his own flavor to whatever band he is supporting that day and always makes it sound better. Now he is stepping out on his own, ready to take New Orleans music up from the streets and bring it to the rest of the world. His ability to add new songs to the brass band repertoire is matchless for a performer so young. Songs like Knock with Me, Rock with Me and Show Me How You Do That Dance are not only street favorites, but have also received sizeable commercial radio airplay, an honor that has eluded brass band music since the ReBirth Brass Band recorded its signature tune, Do Whatcha Wanna, almost 20 years ago. “I am writing all the time, and my lyrics just come out of me,” Andrews explains. “And that’s the way it should be, because this is heart and soul music.”
He's appeared in two acclaimed documentaries, both films captured him performing I'll Fly Away, each time evoking a different meaning. He appears in the documentary Shake the Devil Off, Swiss filmmaker Peter Entell's chronicle of the controversial, post-Katrina proposed closing of St. Augustine Church, which was founded in Tremé in 1841 by slaves and free people of color. Near that film's climax, after footage of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson riling up protesters, the camera closes in on Andrews, who raises his trombone and plays I'll Fly Away. The song seems offered as a call-to-arms, rather than a memorial. And at the very end of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Andrews holds his horn at his side and sings the hymn, just as he did on the night of his arrest. But on the final verse, instead of singing “I'll fly away,” he sings “New Orleans will never go away.” This was no improvisation; it was Lee's idea. And when Lee was syncing music to film, he thought that last line got buried in the mix. He brought Andrews in for a voiceover.
“I want everyone to hear that,” Lee said.
“Like a declaration?” Andrews asked.
“Yeah,” Lee said, “a declaration.”
Andrews is becoming a full-blown star in New Orleans, and his powerful vocals and soulful trombone playing recently drew attention at Jazzfest, the Louis Armstrong “Satchmo Summer Festival” and on the stage of the local music shrine, Tipitina’s. “People are starting to take notice,” Andrews observes. “I know how to take charge of a stage.” One minute he’ll have you feeling the solemn power of an old time spiritual from the 19 th century, and the next you’ll be jumping higher in the air than you ever thought possible while chanting at the top of your lungs.
This seamless mixing of styles sets Glen David Andrews apart from his contemporaries. Through his music, he brings musical history to life, while also creating a new sound that is all his.