After three months in a Massachusetts rehab center, the charismatic performer and trombonist Glen David Andrews has returned to his hometown and appeared several times in public. He sat in at a couple of shows before playing his first scheduled performance last Thursday at Irvin Mayfield’s I Club. Special guest Paul Sanchez sat in with him at that show and played “Walking Through Heaven’s Gate.”
Monday night Andrews returned to his highest profile local gig at d.b.a. His fans did not forget him – the place was packed with well-wishers including his brother, Derrick Tabb, poet Chuck Perkins and Dancing Man 504. Andrews himself looked healthier than he has in a long time and projected a very positive image playing to an extremely enthusiastic crowd pumped from the Saints’ Monday Night Football victory at the Super Dome. “We gonna do like the Saints,” he shouted as the show commenced. “We gonna win tonight!”
Andrews switched his usual approach to d.b.a.’s meandering two-set night of music to a single marathon set that was constructed of pieces from his various songs, with break sections for improvisation. The resultant mashup found him returning to themes over the course of the set – the raveup “Rock Star,” with Andrews urging the audience to “jump up and down”; “At the Foot of Canal Street,” performed at various speeds; and his complete reimagining of Dr. John’s “Walk On Gilded Splinters.” His band handled the complex stop-time changes and worked off of Andrews’ ad-libs with graceful fury. It’s quite a lineup – the outrageous, relentless Barry Stephenson on bass, Thelonious Monk Award winner Jamison Ross on drums (Jamal Watson holds down the drum chair on some nights), Craig Adams on keys, Trombone Shorty alumnus James Martin on saxophone and cousin Glen Andrews of Rebirth Brass Band on trumpet.
The climax of the revamped show is a new song called “Surrender,” a gospel-influenced number about 12-step program principles that Andrews delivers with such sincerity that it manages to avoid sounding like preaching or cant. That’s a good thing given the irony implicit in a person singing about accepting the things he can’t change and surrendering to a higher power in front of an audience of dancing, inebriated revelers.
But that’s all part of the healing process for Andrews. “I’m not telling anybody not to drink,” he said during a break in recording material for a new album at the Music Shed. “I just can’t do it myself. I can be around it. Just don’t offer me any.” Probably the hardest moment for Andrews came after he’d finished the spectacular, multiple-encore set at d.b.a. If ever there was cause for celebration that was it, and Andrews would have certainly taken the occasion in the past. That night, though, he paid the band and left in a hurry, taking a car back to the sister’s house.
“I felt bad having to leave as quickly as I did and not staying around to talk with people,” said Andrews. “But that’s part of the deal. I have to get paid and get out of there. I get to go home and sleep in my bed and wake up with an idea of how happy my life could be. After the show I felt sad about all the times I had played there and how I had wasted that chance for happiness then. But I have an opportunity to move forward now.”
Getting clean has meant a lot of things for Andrews, but mostly it has been about redefining himself to himself. The product of the Treme neighborhood still plays the theme song for the HBO series Treme in his shows, but he has to avoid the neighborhood now because of its associations with a life of drug use.
“If I’m going to change my life, I have to stay away from Treme now,” he said. “I’m living with my sister in New Orleans east. I like the seclusion. It’s quiet. I like to work from home and I can do that there. It’s interesting, all the brothers went out and worked, but it’s my sister who ends up owning a house. She has been tremendously supportive. If I call and say ‘I’m waiting for the bus at Canal Street,’ she says, ‘Stay right where you are, we’re coming to get you in the car.’”
Andrews has renewed energy as a result of his detox and daily workouts, and it’s made him critical of his previous approach to music. “I have to re-learn how to play the trombone because I’ve been doing it wrong for so long,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’m going back to school to improve my technique.”
When Andrews talks about the horror of his years as an addict it’s hard to believe he was able to maintain any kind of working discipline while he was under the influence. “I had to use $100 worth of heroin every day just to get up in the morning,” he said, shaking his head. “I didn’t get involved in it because I had problems. I started doing it because I liked it.”
Andrews still has to face legal charges following a domestic incident with his girlfriend, and was preparing for a November 8 court date when we talked.
“I’ll be there at 9 a.m. with my head held high,” he said. “I have to accept what god has in store for me. I’ll stand up and say I did this and I did that. I want to take responsibility for my actions and if I go to jail I will go of my own free will if it’s because of what I must atone for. I will fight it if there are inaccurate charges against me. I’ve done a lot of things to hurt a lot of people – my girlfriend’s family, my family, club owners and many other people around town. I humbly apologize to all of them and hope they forgive me. If not, I can’t change that. I have to forgive myself, and I’m learning to do that. I can’t change how the judge feels, but I can change my life. And I will never get loaded again in my life.”
Glen David Andrews performs Monday nights at d.b.a. at 10 and Thursday at the I Club at 8 p.m. Beginning next Wednesday, November 14, he’ll begin a residence at Spice at 2005 N. Broad, and will return to Three Muses on the Friday after Thanksgiving.