James Andrews, the Musical Mayor of New Orleans, Looms Large at This Week’s Jazz Fest


When the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicks off this week, an array of native heroes will dominate the lineup. Among their ranks, as standard, might be Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews), the most popular musician within the Big Easy; Oscar-and-Grammy-toting dynamo Jon Batiste, who graced the official poster of the 2022 pageant; the Dixie Cups, featured on this 12 months’s poster; Irma Thomas, the soul queen of New Orleans; and perennial crowd-pleasers Boyfriend and Big Freedia. Also on the invoice might be representatives of a constellation of musical households from the Crescent City, with names like Batiste, Benoit, Boutté, Brunious, Lastie, Marsalis, Neville, and Payton. There might be tributes to the late Wayne Shorter and Tina Turner, in addition to units billed as jazz funerals for Russell Batiste and Jimmy Buffett—with the latter having kicked off his musical profession in NOLA. Headlining the entire shebang—unsurprisingly—might be a band of scruffy rock and blues veterans (ages 80, 80, and 76, respectively) who collectively go by the title the Rolling Stones.

But this 12 months there might be one New Orleanian onstage whose presence looms particularly massive. And that might be Tremé-raised trumpet legend James Andrews (the eldest brother of Trombone Shorty), who is usually unsung and underappreciated in a city that breeds jazz and blues giants.

Andrews, also referred to as 12, might be most recognizable from his appearances on the HBO sequence Treme. And for returning together with his brother Troy to a devastated New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, the place, 17 days after the deluge, he vowed to the souls gathered in Jackson Square: “We’re gonna rebuild this city, note by note.” Today, nevertheless, Andrews is simply as vocal—and ever-present. “Forget New York City jazz,” he lately declared, sounding like an official civic emissary. “New Orleans is the home of traditional jazz. We’re on a mission to keep telling the world about New Orleans music. To spread it everywhere.”

It’s been fairly a month for Andrews, 55. Between exhibits in Switzerland and Ottawa, he performed a showcase in April on the ultimate day of the annual French Quarter Fest, a neighborly amalgam of 1,700 performers who play at 20-plus venues all through one of the crucial storied and historic districts in New Orleans. He has a brand new album, James Andrews & the Crescent City Allstars—“Available on vinyl!” as he lately shouted from the stage. “We’re getting next year’s Grammy!”—that was recorded at his brother’s studio, Buckjump, within the Lower Garden District. He has a brand new initiative, the New Orleans Musicians Burial Fund, supposed to assist cowl the interment prices for performers who, as Andrews explains, “didn’t have insurance for a proper place of burial or, if they or their families wanted it, to have a dignified jazz funeral.”

And this Saturday, he’ll take up his standard Jazz Fest perch, positive to placed on a gig that’s a spotlight of the pageant resulting from his knack for rousing a crowd with manic vitality, unbridled optimism, and gravel-voiced wisecracks. Andrews has turn out to be, in impact, a sort of musical mayor of town—“one of the primary cultural ambassadors from the cradle of music,” as Karen Dalton Beninato says within the new disc’s liner notes. “I’ve been to every Jazz Fest,” he maintains, explaining his attendance tally, which matches again to 1970 (when the occasion was based by music-festival impresario George Wein, with Quint Davis and Allison Miner). “There’s a picture of me—at five!—at the first one, in Congo Square.”

Since the 2021 passing of the household matriarch, Lois Nelson Andrews, son James, the eldest grandchild, has taken on the mantle of the Andrews, Nelson, and Hill households. This circle contains his musician siblings Troy, Terry “Buster,” and Bruce (in addition to the late Darnell “D-Boy”), together with assorted cousins corresponding to Keva Holiday (she sings on his new album), Revert “Peanut,” Glen David, Glen “Buddha” Finister, Eldridge, Tyrone, Rodrick, and the late Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill, in addition to “a couple of Tyreeks and a million Glens,” says Andrews. “And Herlin Riley, who played with Wynton Marsalis—and all these youngsters coming, including my son Jenard.

“Without James Andrews,” drummer Glen Finister noticed late final 12 months, “a lot of us wouldn’t be playing music and wouldn’t be where we are…. James put everyone on their first gig.” (Full disclosure: My son, Sam Friend, a New Orleans–primarily based musician, performed his first Jazz Fest with Andrews and sometimes performs with him.)

With Jazz Fest quick approaching, the Crescent City Allstars’ most up-to-date headlining gig continues to be contemporary in my reminiscence. Two Sundays in the past, because the solar was setting on the French Quarter Fest’s Jackson Square stage, Andrews addressed the assembled, his limbs and trumpet all swaying like a type of flailing inflatable stick figures widespread at used-car tons. He implored the viewers to lift each palms within the air, as if in celebration. Then, looking on the sea of waving arms, he cracked, “Watch your wallets! This is the French Quarter!”

He performed his authentic composition “The Big Time Stuff,” together with John Boutté’s “Treme Song (Down in the Treme),” which Andrews has adopted as a kind of theme tune. He then broke into his late grandfather Jessie Hill’s signature, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” accompanied on the refrain by the bouncing crowd.

He introduced his cousin Keva Holiday to the bandstand to sing the gospel staple “Oh Happy Day.” He introduced up jazz icon Cassandra Wilson. He introduced up Trombone Shorty—to play drums, no much less—shouting to the viewers as he shoved two James Andrews albums into his brother’s palms, “Repeat after me: Crescent City Allstars dot com! Crescent City Allstars dot com!” He introduced up a Mardi Gras Indian in full regalia and a succession of so-called child dolls (conventional umbrella-holding, bloomer-festooned revelers, whose ranks have been revived by his mom).

And then he introduced down the home, fairly actually. Without informing the police—or so he proclaimed from the stage—he requested everybody in Jackson Square to observe him in an impromptu “second line” procession to a close-by bar. “It’s the 40th anniversary of French Quarter Fest,” he mentioned. “We ain’t never done this before.” And with that, the brash man with the brass band strode northwest up St. Peter Street, taking part in “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Festivalgoers trailed him, 20 abreast, weaving out and in of site visitors to the spacious, old-school tavern B Mac’s, whose homeowners didn’t know what hit ’em.

“They’re good people,” Andrews insisted. “I wanted to throw them some business.”


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