If you know Trombone Shorty, then you know my friend, James Andrews, Shorty’s big brother. James helped raise Shorty, made sure he had as many opportunities as possible to take advantage of, and exposed him to as much musical schooling as possible. Not that a whole lot of formal musical schooling was needed. Both brothers belong to an extended family of Andrews kin who share the magic musical genetics of Jessie “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” Hill, a major figure in early New Orleans R&B and a charter member of the informal clan that gathered around Mac Rebennack and producer Harold Battiste in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s around the time that the two were conspiring to breathe life into Mac’s newly conceived Dr. John persona.
I first got to know James in the late 1990s when I was asked to write the liner notes for an Allen Toussaint-produced album on NYNO Records, a label Toussaint started with a partner in New York. With Dr. John also involved in the production, Satchmo of the Ghetto covered all the right bases and basically launched James’ solo career. The CD-release party was held at the French Quarter Tipitina’s, Allen Toussaint’s gold Rolls-Royce was parked out front, and John Fogerty and Dr. John’s mama were in attendance. Allen Toussaint set himself up stage-front to the left and Dr. John set himself up stage-front to the right. James strode into the gap, took control of the show, and burned that place up! But he never got so carried away he forgot to bring out Shorty, who was maybe 10 years old at the time. As far as I could see, any time James got time in the spotlight, if he could, he’d share it with Shorty.
James’ most recent CD, last year’s The Big Time Stuff, is pure, indigenous New Orleans R&B: tuneful, playful, swinging, a little jazzy, a little Latin, and unvaryingly funky. His band, the Crescent City All-Stars, meanwhile, are all among the city’s get-down-and-dirtiest: drummer Kevin O’Day, bassist Chris Severin, and trombonist Richard Anderson, with special guests Dirty Dozen saxophonist Roger Lewis and trumpeter Marlon Jordan. James and the All-Stars appear Thursday nights at The Candlelight Lounge in the Treme.
James Andrews plays Jazz Fest on Friday, April 27 at 1:40 p.m. in the Blues Tent.