A ripple of anticipation passed through the gathering crowd one steamy night last August in a bar in New Orleans' Faubourg Marigny. Like a distant rumble of thunder preceding a deluge, the muffled sound of a trombone echoed from somewhere out of sight, then grew gradually louder as patrons swiveled their heads, looking for the source. Suddenly the band emerged, moving through the crowd with the peculiarly rhythmic saunter that characterizes one of the more sedate paces of the city's famed second line.
Wielding the trombone and leading the way was Glen David Andrews, who at well over 6 feet tall looks more like a Saints linebacker than a musician. But he's endowed with a blazing, charismatic spirit, a soulful, raspy voice and a superabundance of energy that combine to sweep crowds into paroxysms of ecstasy.
"My job is to make you sweat, sweat profoundly like a dog, jump, dance, scream, cry, happy thing -- whatever moves you," Andrews gushed over the phone last week from New Orleans. "If I don't do all those things, then I'm doin' somethin' wrong, man."
Sure enough, within minutes that Marigny joint was in a frenzy that remained at a fever pitch for hours, Andrews stoking his six-piece band for a mind-boggling sprint through Crescent City brass band, trad jazz and gospel standards; funk, rock, blues and soul; Dr. John's hoodoo nugget "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" smack up against Al Green, "The Saints," James Brown howls, flashes of Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. He even scatted to Hendrix guitar licks when he wasn't wading through his fans, exhorting them with cries of "Put yo hands up!" and "Everybody go crazy!"
And that was just one of Andrews' several weekly local gigs. Last July he practically shook the Dakota, where he returns with his band Wednesday and Thursday, to its foundations when severe weather forced an outdoors gig inside.
"The guy who runs it -- Lowell [Pickett] -- he kept sayin', 'I guarantee you won't crowd-surf in here,'" recalled Andrews, who nevertheless did, inciting an unprecedented Dakota ride on waves of Minnesota fingertips.
In fact, Andrews, 30, who speaks in a torrent of words and oozes self-confidence, appears poised to catch a wave of stardom, close on the heels of his Grammy-nominated cousin, Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews). He recently signed with a national booking agency and while he contemplates recording his first national album, Andrews is about to reprise his prominent role -- playing himself -- in the second season of HBO's "Tremé," set in and named for the New Orleans neighborhood where he was born, bred and absorbed music almost literally off the streets.
"At the time, Tremé was still the hub for musicians," he said. "It had over 25 bar rooms and maybe 15, 20 churches and they all had live music. And you still had all the great musicians: the Humphrey brothers [Percy and Willie], Danny Barker, who personally taught us. These people played with Louis Armstrong!"
In the tradition
Although he never had formal lessons, Andrews naturally gravitated to music, starting as a bass drummer in a neighborhood brass band when he was 8. A few years later he picked up trombone and soon was playing in Jackson Square with Anthony (Tuba Fats) Lacen, a family friend who he considers a key mentor, as well as such brass bands as the Lil Rascals and New Birth.
The rasp in Andrews' voice resembles Armstrong's, but he says it's nothing intentional. "I didn't learn to sing properly, so I trained my voice for singin' over crowds in Jackson Square. So I have a big voice. My main idol for singin' is Big Joe Turner. I consider myself one of the last of the blues shouters."
Andrews also considers himself inherently tied to past generations of trad and gospel players, and even put out a live gospel album ("Walking Through Heaven's Gate") recorded at the Tremé church he attended growing up. There's a good bit of the preacher in the way he fires up a crowd. But he rattles off a slew of additional influences.
"You can see my [trumpeter] cousin James [Andrews] in me. And Troy. You can see Aaron Neville in me. Johnny Adams. I took from all those guys. I can sit down and be real tenderly and smile atcha; a warm smile like I got from Fats Domino. I'm the reincarnation of Louis Armstrong, linkin' that music to the 21st century, baby."
Andrews has a special affection for the late Tuba Fats, who was there literally from day one. He said his mother was known for dancing when brass bands paraded through Tremé, even when she was very pregnant. The story goes that Fats "put the tuba on her stomach and she started shakin' and her water bag bust," Andrews recounted. "The band kept playin' 'til the ambulance come got her. And I was comin' out all the way to the hospital.
"That was my introduction, man. I came into New Orleans at a second line, and I'm gonna leave with a second line."