The Sounds And Soul Of Treme

Vocalist and trombonist Glen David Andrews talks about the cultural role music plays in New Orleans and plays some of his famous tracks. Andrews is a long-time resident of the Crescent City’s legendary Treme neighborhood.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

We've been taking a look this week at all things New Orleans, as the city marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But this eclectic, vibrant city has shown a resilience that's stunning in the face of adversity, including the aftereffects of the oil spill this year. The musical community is part of that triumphant defiance and vocalist trombonist Glen David Andrews embodies the living, dancing, infectious spirit of the city.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: Andrews is a force of nature, as you can here, as he and other musicians protested a recent New Orleans crackdown on street musicians playing after eight in the evening. He's also perhaps familiar to fans of HBO's "Treme" series, where his music is occasionally featured. And Glen David Andrews joins us right now. Welcome to the program, man.

Mr. GLEN DAVID ANDREWS (Musician): Welcome, how you feelin'?

KEYES: We are good. We are good. So I saw you three weeks ago at your regular Monday set at D.B.A.'s and you had the whole place on fire. What is that about?

Mr. ANDREWS: It's all about giving people there they're want to come to New Orleans, and they want to see real authentic music and we want to give it to them. And what I try and give everybody is a little bit of gospel, blues with some traditional jazz, throw a little rock over it, but mostly just have a great time swinging out.

KEYES: The place was hot, people were sweating, they're taking their shirts off, they're following you around like the pied piper. You are not the kind of musician that is looking for the quiet-just-sittin'-there-clapping crowd, are you?

Mr. ANDREWS: For me I'm an entertainer and I love to entertain. It's nothing like looking in somebody in the eyes and just singing to their needs. There's just something about that. You could tell what someone is going through and your words are soothing and helping them.

KEYES: I heard a rumor that you may have brought your horn with you and your fabulous guitar player, Morgan Wood. Why don't you play something cool for us?

Mr. ANDREWS: We're going to swing out one of my favorite tunes. A little bit of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

(Soundbite of song, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) When I choose a closer walk with thee, yes, grant it, Jesus, is my plea. Oh, daily walking close to thee, let it be, dear Lord, let it be. Bob-a-bop-a-bop-a-bop, oh yeah. Yeah.

KEYES: Now, if that's tradition, whose tradition is it? Where'd it come from?

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, I would actually say the tradition of the music can have so many different influences that make jazz. You have the African rhythms, which were a part of, naturally, all the slaves that came to the States. You have the Indian chants and the different instrumentations that they had, along with the European instrumentation. But the jazz and the gospel, all this formed in the black community in the area called Treme, New Orleans.

KEYES: And let me back you up on the Indian, because some people aren't going to understand the kind of Indian you mean. Explain it for me a little.

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, for me, I'm mostly talking about Native Americans and Mardi Gras Indians. Because the reason you have Mardi Gras Indians is that's the African the Indians would help the slaves escape and the blacks would live with them on the reservation. And over the years there became a tradition of what is called masking where blacks would put on elaborate costumes and pretend to be Indians up and down the streets of New Orleans for over 100 years. And it's become a wonderful tradition. That's just a part of the landscape of the city.

KEYES: You know what, Glen? Let me back you up because it occurs to me that not everybody may know what Treme is. It's a neighborhood, it's a state of mind, is it both?

Mr. ANDREWS: It's a country. It's a country within a country. It just so happens to be in America. And Treme is the golden egg that's in between it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Tell me how you got started out in music. You've been playing since you were little?

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, I first - my entire family is from the Treme. All of my memories, everything that I ever saw was the brass band - the Olympia Brass Band coming up the street. My grandmother had one of the most popular barrooms. She worked with another lady who had one. My aunt owned the famed Caledonia, which became Trombone Shorty's barroom. So for me, to walk up and down the street of the Treme, it was always music and church. It was over 20 barrooms with live music, and I never wanted to do nothing but be a musician because that's all I ever saw, and I thought it was a great thing to do.

KEYES: What instrument did you start out on?

Mr. ANDREWS: I started out as the grand marshal, the guy who dances in front the band, then I moved up to the bass drummer, but I didn't like being in the back of the band. I pretty much always had to be the front man.

KEYES: I'm shocked to hear that, shocked...

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: ...that you didn't being in the back.

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah. Nah, it wasn't cool. I never liked it, really and although, I was a good drummer. I started playing with my brother Derrick Tabb, who's been the drummer for the Rebirth for about 17 years now, and my brother's pretty much real strict and a perfectionist. And if you get a chance to get away from your older brother, that's pretty much what you do.

And I was walking up the street, I was like 14 years old. And my cousin, first cousin Trombone Shorty, had his band. And he said man, we need a front man. You going to be the front man, because you the tallest. And that's when I first started playing the trombone with - Trombone Shorty gave me his horn, let me play it, showed me how to get by on it. I learned a little bit in school, but mostly, I learned from - in the Treme neighborhood, from emulating and watching everybody. But I always was going part of a band. There never was a doubt about that.

KEYES: Play for us some of the traditional things you heard growing up, a little bit, if you can.

Mr. ANDREWS: I'm going to play this song by myself that I actually hear the Olympia Brass Band play. It's called "Oh, Didn't He Ramble?"

KEYES: Hey, and Glen, you can play it all the way through, by the way. You don't have to shorten it for us.

Mr. ANDREWS: I'll play it for you, darling.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh, Didn't He Ramble?")

Mr. ANDREWS: That's called "Oh, Didn't He Ramble?" And I used to hear the Olympia Brass Band play that almost three or four times a week because I lived in between all the funeral homes in the Treme neighborhood. And every time they would let the hearse go to the cemetery, they would strike that number up, and I'm talking about everybody would just start buck-jumping hard, like hard -ladies, you know, chest be shaking like basketballs. Guys be jumping. I'm talking about guys be jumping so high and tuba fat(ph) be blowing their tuba. And it's like you could really - you really understand what the jazz feeling was all about when you see that rejoicing, like really rejoicing. And they be playing that number all the way to the favorite lodge. You know, everywhere they going, man, we be partying all - that's one of my favorite tunes there.

KEYES: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes, and I'm talking to Glen David Andrews, a trombonist and singer from Treme, in New Orleans.

Glen, I want to play something from you're CD. I think this is "Jesus on the Main Line."

Mr. ANDREWS: Call him up and tell him what you want.

KEYES: Hey.

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus on the Main Line")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) I got Jesus is on that mainline. Tell him what you want. Oh, I got Jesus is on that mainline. Tell him what you want. Well, I got Jesus on the mainline. Tell him what you want. Oh, you got to call him up and tell him what you want.

KEYES: So that gospel tradition is as much of the music you grew up with as the jazz and brass, isn't it?

Mr. ANDREWS: It's very dear to me. My family is direct descendents of slaves, and some of the first - well, not the first, but some of the, I would actually say the first group of free people of color. My family has been in Treme since it has been a Treme. So for me, being a part of church has been - it's just been in my life all of my life.

KEYES: I want to talk a little bit about your singing, because when I first saw you, I think you were doing some improved variation of "You Are My Sunshine" on stage, singing directly into some girl's eyes, making up the words. And I was thinking: That's Louis Armstrong. And you just got back from New York. I heard you had a chance to go by his House Museum in Corona. I was there when it opened. What did you think?

Mr. ANDREWS: That was the most exhilarating experience I have - I've been blessed to travel through South Africa, through Italy to the Vatican, and just to some wonderful, you know, places around the world. But I have never been nowhere as spiritual as the Louis Armstrong House. And just to be there and to be able to play, you know, I just want to say thank you to the Louis Armstrong House.

They opened the doors wide for me, made sure that I had a personal tour, allowed me just to experience some stuff that the average visitor don't get to do, and I was able to pay a tribute to Louis Armstrong, from me to him. And me and my cousin Revert Andrews, we did a circle(ph) line through every room in his house, and we was - boy, we was rolling for Louis Armstrong. We actually played that song "Oh, Didn't He Ramble?" that I played, for Louis Armstrong. Sometimes you need a wakeup call, just a spiritual awakening to let you know that you're doing the right thing, and that was it for me, man. It's - it gets no better than the Louis Armstrong House. It get's no better than that for me.

KEYES: I should note, within that museum, they play actual tapes of Louis Armstrong talking in the rooms of his house and playing his horn along with the records.

Glen, what else did you play there, besides that one song?

Mr. ANDREWS: I looked on the list that he had on his desk, and I picked about two or three songs off that list...

KEYES: So let's here one. Come on. Come on.

Mr. ANDREWS: We're going to play a little bit of "Do You Know What it means to Miss New Orleans?"

(Soundbite of song, "Do You Know What it means to Miss New Orleans")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

We're going to do this one for the Treme neighborhood, and for everybody with my good friend, Allison. Here we go.

(Singing) Well, do you know what it means to miss New Orleans and miss a town like this? Oh, D.C. is too far, feeling got stronger, longer I stayed away. The tall sugar pines, moss-covered vine. Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah. Oh, yeah.

Well, do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, where that's where you left your heart? And one thing more, I miss the town I care for, more than I miss New Orleans. Yeah.

KEYES: Fabulous. I have to do a small, serious note here for a moment, though, because, I mean, your city has been through so much. It's the fifth anniversary of landfall of Katrina. You've got the oil spill. What do you think about the way things are going in your city? The rebuilding effort, are they doing a good job? Are they doing a bad job?

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, of course, they're doing a horrible job. We, you know, it's very embarrassing to be in the City of New Orleans right now and just to see that every - it's like the Ninth Ward, when people are saying that they never had no plans to rebuild it, it's not being rebuilt. When you go through the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, and the Seventh, it's just much blight. The police department is a national embarrassment. But overall, I think that it's time to bury Katrina like we buried the (unintelligible) because, you know, God has been good to this city, and it's time to move on.

We have way better schools. We're getting a billion-dollar hospital. And you can't dwell in the past. It just keeps you too depressed, too much putting(ph) to blame - it's Bush's fault. It's Nagin's fault. It's nobody's fault. It's a natural disaster, and I think this is America, and it's time to move on.

I lived in a trailer for three years, but I don't go around complaining. It's just not worth the time and the effort when we can all come together as a city and do something about this crime problem. We can do something about creating something more than a service industry. We can broaden the educational profile of this city, and we can move on.

If you want to dwell on Katrina, then, you know, that's good for you. But me, personally, I moved on six months after Katrina when I came back to New Orleans and started rebuilding my aunt and uncle's house and playing music on the streets of the Treme in New Orleans. I'm beyond Katrina. I'm over it, me.

KEYES: All right. Speaking...

Mr. ANDREWS: I got bigger fish to fry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Speaking of moving on, I've got to play one more track from your CD, and it's "I'll Fly Away."

Mr. ANDREWS: Good. That's a good one.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Fly Away")

KEYES: You know, I find it interesting listening to some of the chords that you used in your music. They're not traditional jazz chords. There's, like, more of a minor-key thing happening with that.

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, I would disagree with you with that. The core of my musical is very traditional. But what you're talking about is from being - it's we all are professional musicians. We have learned music.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ANDREWS: So, of course, you hear a lot of chord progressions, and I'm very fortunate to play with some great guys who have really - they've got me back into my horn, so they really had me into different chords, different progressions, different chromatic scales. So we're really applying all aspects of music to the music. Even though it's, you know, Southern traditional gospel, it's no reason not to add some funky chords or some modern contemporary jazz to it.

KEYES: All right. Glen, let me see if we can talk you into playing one more to take us out of the interview on - if you're down.

Mr. ANDREWS: All right. I'm going to do this song for you, and I hope you enjoy it.

(Soundbite of song, "When the Saints Go Marching In")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) Oh, when the saints marching in, when the saints go marching in. Want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.

(Soundbite of scatting)

Mr. ANDREWS: Who that city going to beat them Super Bowl-winning Saints?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: I knew football was going to come into this sooner or later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDREWS: It's supposed to. This is the - we're excited in this town. Who that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Glen David Andrews, entertainer extraordinaire, joined us from New Orleans. The vocalist, trombonist, and dare we say, pied piper, is occasionally featured on HBO's "Treme," and his fabulous guitarist, of course.

Thanks gentlemen, for joining us.

Mr. ANDREWS: Thank you for having us.

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