Over 1,500 miles north of the French Quarter, New Orleans jazz legend Glen David Andrews has found a sanctuary.
Though he comes from a storied lineage of NOLA brass, it was Massachusetts where Andrews found the solace to write his latest album, the fittingly-titled “Redemption.” As an outpatient at the Right Turn facility in Arlington, a rehab center that specializes in treating musicians, he was finally able to buck the demons of the Sixth Ward and its tempestuous spotlight.
Now, touring in support “Redemption,” a sober and clear-headed Andrews returns to the Hub to play Johnny D’s this Friday. For him, crossing the state line is like coming home.
Charming and boisterous enough to fill a room, Andrews comes right through the phone sounding magnanimous and refreshed. He’s a big man whose fire and unpredictability behind the mic could easily be dangerous if he lost his equilibrium.
But that’s no longer the case with the pedigreed jazz man. Touring behind soul-stirring jaunts like “You Don’t Know” and Tremé clemencies like “Surrender,” Andrews is on the trail of restitution.
He’s not the same man he was when he entered Right Turn nearly two years ago. Though he always makes a point to stop by Right Turn when he’s in town and he heads the Kerwin James Foundation, which aims to help other Louisiana performers stricken with addiction receive the same creative care that he did, the past is a time Andrews only speaks about in ambiguities now. He chats animatedly about meeting friends for dinner, spending a weekend at a compatriot’s lake house, and chatting with his manager’s 92-year-old mother, politely refusing to stray too far into the dark.
“That’s all finished,” he says, “Most people know my story, everybody read it in the papers, they saw it on the news, they Googled it. My way of addressing it was to put it to music, because I feel like a lot of things I’ve been through in my life, a lot of people have been through as well, and they can identify.”
“I’d rather just sing,” he says, “I’m not really that into playing the horn. I don’t feel the need of wanting to blow on the horn. I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”
Despite the record’s obvious Biblical overtones, Andrews wasn’t aiming to write a hymnal. “I wasn’t necessarily going for a gospel feel,” he says, “it was just a feeling of emotion. I perform on emotion.” Nor was his goal to do something strictly New Orleans. Instead, “Redemption” is something uniquely Andrews.
It has all the Bourbon Street trappings of his bloodline – for example, “Bad by Myself,” which is destined to become another jazz standard in the vein of “Knock wit Me” – but the LP’s style is more global. It has the brass-alloyed backbone of the bayou but with the reflective hospitality of Andrews’ New England reclamation.
“I found a good place where I was comfortable,” he says, “I had about three months of time on my hands in Boston, and that was a good place for me to write. At that particular time, a lot of things in my life had spiraled out of control, and God was merciful and kind enough to really take me back before my life was out of commission.”
“They love New Orleans in Boston,” he says, citing Central Square’s People’s Republik as a stronghold of northern jazz culture. “I’ve found some genuinely real-ass people in Boston.”
Andrews knows that, whenever he’s on the road – whether he’s sober, searching, or otherwise – he’ll always have a home in Beantown. Even if it’ll never be a perfect substitute for the Big Easy. But that’s okay. After all, it’s the nature of retreat.
“This is a good place,” he says, repeating a sentiment he’s barely able to keep down, “Like any other city, it’s got its quirks, but for me, when I think of Boston, I’m thinking of heaven.”
Photos courtesy of Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee and Kimball Packard</em<