Friday, March 28, 2008

New Orleans Musician Glen David Andrews


BackTalk with Glen David Andrews

By John Swenson

The late January afternoon shadows shiver across the flagstones on Jackson Square as a crowd of about 50 tourists in winter clothes passively watches an unlikely collection of musicians—a chubby, red-faced schoolboy trumpeter, a trombone player, tuba player, trap drummer and stand-up bassist—huff through a ragtag version of “Saints.” Glen David Andrews arrives with his trombone case slung over his shoulder, sits next to the kid trumpeter and transforms this tableau into an impromptu party.

During “I Have a Friend in Jesus,” Andrews shoulders his trombone and sends a bolt of electricity through the crowd with a solo that corkscrews in intensity as he throws in four and eight bar quotes from sources including horseracing’s “Call To Post.”

Andrews signals the other trombonist to solo, then shows the trumpeter how to comp under the solo. Andrews starts singing “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” adding verses from “I Hear You Knockin’” and “Blueberry Hill.” Suddenly the tourists are doing that spasmodic tourist dance, the involuntary shuffle, and a handful of homeless men who’ve been watching in silence start dancing around and gesturing as if they’re part of the entertainment. Andrews encourages the kid to sing “New Orleans Street Parade” and does a scat vocal call-and-response, making the kid take another chorus. Andrews then plays the opening strains of “Georgia,” but when he starts to sing, he changes it to “Louisiana.” The crowd goes nuts, filling the tip bucket with paper money, and Andrews takes a bow.

Andrews has been playing in this exact spot since he was younger than that red-faced trumpeter, learning from the legendary Tuba Fats. His career has taken him through the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band, the New Birth Brass Band and some spectacular moments in the Andrews Family Band along with his cousins James and Troy Andrews. As part of the new breed of brass band musicians, he wrote the refrain “Gimme a dime /I only got eight,” which has become a staple of the new brass band repertoire.

Since Katrina, Andrews has been homeless—he’s currently sleeping in his uncle’s FEMA trailer—and has turned into an outspoken critic of street violence, the slow pace of the recovery and police crackdowns on second line parades. “I got a lot to play,” he says, “and a lot to say!”

What may even be more interesting about his post-Katrina persona, though, is that Andrews has moved away from his role as one of the young turks of the new brass band movement and embraced traditional brass band music. His band, Glen David Andrews and the Lazy Six, plays the old school New Orleans jazz of his ancestors in regular gigs at Preservation Hall and Mid City Lanes Rock ’n’ Bowl.

It’s interesting to see that you still play in Jackson Square.
I like to play in Jackson Square. That’s what I’m interested in doing, teaching people. Nobody’s teaching the traditional music. The only way you can really hear the traditional music is through the Treme Brass Band or at Preservation Hall.

You were recently arrested for second lining in the Treme, which brought attention to the pressure being applied by the police to the second line tradition.
You have to just do it. They shouldn’t even ask for permission. I’ve been second lining all my life and I’m going to keep on doing it. We paraded in the Treme yesterday for about three hours. Nobody bothered us.

You’ve been an effective spokesperson for a lot of post-Katrina issues. Unfortunately, if you say what’s on your mind, you’re branded as a troublemaker. Look at what happened to Cyril Neville.
He was right to say what he said. He said we didn’t leave New Orleans, New Orleans kicked us out. On one hand the city wants to use you to promote it, “Come to New Orleans to hear the great music,” but on the other hand there’s no place for you here.

It’s like the Musicians’ Village, which I have a real problem with. And not just because they turned me down for a house. They turned down most of the musicians who applied, most of the brass band members. The only people who are qualifying are people with good credit, older people with social security and folks like that. How does that help us, really? How are you supposed to have good credit when you’re wiped out, lost all your possessions and are living in somebody else’s trailer? Even if I had good credit, if I could get a loan from a bank, what do I want to live in the Ninth Ward for, anyway? I grew up in the real Musicians’ Village, Treme. I want to live in the real Musicians’ Village.

A lot of the older people have been sidelined since Katrina. You didn’t have to drown to be kept from being able to do what you were doing before. It seems like a big part of the social infrastructure that kept the traditional brass bands going is just gone.

They ran them off. I used to talk to [Olympia’s] Doc Watson all my days. I would just call him and talk to him; he ain’t here to do that anymore. There’s no Tuba Fats left in the Sixth Ward. Tuba Fats taught everybody and not just about the music. He took us to London every year to play, and he took us to Amsterdam.
I talk to Irvin Mayfield a lot. He says, “They know what you’re trying to do. They don’t like people that speak out.” You go against the grain, they stay away from you. Everything’s a clique. That’s why the city’s in the trouble it’s in.

With so many of the older keepers of the flame out of commission or out of the city, it falls on younger guys like you not only symbolize the new blood in the brass band sound, but now you’ve got to uphold the old tradition, too.
When I saw the Olympia Brass Band for the first time I was like six, seven years old. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I knew when I saw James (Andrews) at the World’s Fair I knew I was going to be playing with him. I grew up with it in the Treme, it was all around me. Ironing Board Sam. James Black lived around the corner. I grew up with the Olympia, the Pinstripe band all my life, and I realize that’s my niche. I love to sing the old tunes. Every Sunday when I get on the stand at Preservation Hall, I get a chill.

What’s your ideal repertoire for playing there?
I always try to play some Bunk Johnson, some Punch Miller, some Red Allen.

At places like Fritzel’s they play traditional jazz like classical music, note for note reproductions.
I’ve only seen one black musician play there in the 27 years of my life and that was Gregg Stafford. The best place you’re going to get down there [on Bourbon Street] is the Maison Bourbon; Jamil Sharif is there to commemorate the traditional music. That’s the thing about the tradition. You’ve got to know “Sunny Side of the Street” before you can know “Gimme a Dime.” You’ve got to know the tradition. And that’s what’s happening with these new brass bands. It’s the same thing with these Indian chiefs. Everybody wants to be the Big Chief now. There’s like 23 chiefs now; nobody wants to start off being the Spyboy.

How did you learn the tradition?
They gave me a horn when I was like 13 and said, “Do this” and I’ve been doing this ever since. I used to come by Tuba Fats and he’d have me play the bass drum. He’d say, “Sit there and do this.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was training me. My brothers, James and Troy Andrews, Nicholas Payton, they were my earliest influences. They all played together in brass bands. Kerwin James, who just passed away, he was there. It all started there in the Sixth Ward. We were a close family, 15 children, me and my cousins. Eight of them are named Glen Andrews. You know the New Kids Brass Band? Well, that’s all my cousin and brother’s children. Three of them in the band are named Glen Andrews. So the three of them and me and my cousin with the Rebirth, we went to channel 4 about two months ago. Everybody is signing in as Glen Andrews. The security guard says, “I don’t know if you take security seriously or not, but this is not funny.” So we all get to pulling out our IDs.

So you see your role now, at 27 years old, as an older guy passing along the tradition?
People don’t respect the tradition. The young people don’t seem to respect much. If I’m playing at the Rock ’n’ Bowl, everybody wears suits and ties. Suits and ties. At Preservation Hall, if you don’t come out there with a coat and tie, you can go home. You could be the tuba player, somebody I need. If you don’t come with a suit and tie, you can go home. Tuba Fats told me that’s the way you run a band. You’ve got to pay them, make sure everybody’s looking good and professional and sounding good. Otherwise it’s going to fall on you.

You were also part of the brass band new wave with the Rascals and New Birth.
I did the song “Gimme a Dime, I only got 8” with New Birth. But that ain’t what I want to do. I’m through with that. The new shit dishes the old folks.

So you put that aside.
It’s violence. It’s not music. It’s one chord over the same groove over and over. No offense to the Hot 8. My brother Derek started that band. No offense to the Soul Rebels. I like all those people as people. I don’t want to listen to that. “That’s the street thing,” they say. “I’m trying to do something new.” How the hell are you going to do that if you don’t know where it came from? Do you know “Palm Court Strut?” Do you know who Danny Barker was? You need to find out about some of these things. You need to go by George Buck and get you a couple of them records.

You’ve been under a lot of psychological stress over the last couple of years…
I look at it that I am actually homeless. I’m living in my uncle’s trailer. If I didn’t have the help of my family, if I was a weak-minded person, I’d be back on drugs. I’d most likely have killed myself by now. I look out the door and there’s a woman across the street with her two babies sleeping in the outdoors. That shit breaks my heart, but I know God and I know God is merciful. I know he’ll look down on me and give me the courage and strength to keep going.

You were relocated to Texas for a while…
I was in Houston for six months but I left. I was stressed. They don’t welcome us there. They have an ad campaign right now there encouraging all the people in Houston to buy a gun to protect themselves from those people from New Orleans. Those people. They did have that bunch of assholes that went out there killing everybody, but that doesn’t represent the rest of us.

What do you think the future is for brass band music?
There’s not enough cooperation among the younger brass band players. All the white players stick together. All these so-called retro jazz bands, I don’t hear anything I like down on Frenchmen Street outside of Snug Harbor except if it’s John Boutte. It’s sad.

If you’re going to play the traditional music do it the right way. The Storyville Stompers. They’re doing traditional music the right way. Rebirth works so hard and travels up and down that road, so they’re going to survive. Them and the Dozen are all right. Not all the individuals in those bands are all right financially, but those bands are all right as far as work. But I’ve got to worry about myself.

Everybody compares me to Troy and James, but Troy and James are working. I guess I’m just as good as them; I just don’t get as much work. The last 15 years of my career, I’ve spent backing up. I backed Troy, I backed James, I backed the New Birth. The time has come for me to step out on my own. Going on this trip to Austin is a big step for me.

I’m a musician. I don’t build homes. I don’t paint. I don’t know how to paint. I don’t know nothing about changing tires. But I can sing and that’s what I want to do. If I sit in that trailer, I’ll go crazy.

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