Jazz trumpeter and vocalist James Andrews has performed at the Kennedy Center, Austin City Limits and Lincoln Center, but the music venues he likes best are the most ordinary ones.
“I like playing out in the open, where it’s free and just about the music, like someone’s front porch,” Andrews says. “And I love the feeling you get from playing in church, from the acoustics and all the spirit that’s built up.”
For Andrews, life has been all about the music for years. A native of New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood, he grew up surrounded by the sound of R&B, New Orleans-style jazz and brass bands. “I’m used to being always around music,” he says. “There were always musicians around.”
Some of those performers belonged to his family tree. His brother, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, plays trombone; his grandfather was an R&B singer and songwriter; and his great-uncles, Lawrence “Prince La La” Nelson and Walter “Papoose” Nelson Jr., the last of whom performed with Fats Domino.
Was that daunting? “No, it was never intimidating,” says Andrews, who recently cut a CD honoring the music of his grandfather. “It was inspiring.”
Andrews began his musical career at age 7, when he started playing the trumpet. (He also plays tuba.) Unlike other famous New Orleans jazz musicians such as Branford and Wynton Marsalis, though, Andrews didn’t get his musical training at the city’s arts high school, but more informally. He watched the performers at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. He performed with memorable New Orleans groups — the Tremé Brass Band and the New Birth Brass Band — and connected with local legends such as Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. “I went to the school of hard knocks in the streets of New Orleans,” Andrews says. “I got it the hard way, through on-the-job training.”
It sounds challenging, but Andrews expresses no regrets about his chosen career path. “A musician’s life is bittersweet, but I never thought of doing anything else,” he says. “That feeling it gives me when I am finished playing in front of people!”
Today, Andrews performs regularly, often for jazz funerals or other private events, and leads his own band, the Crescent City All Stars, in a style influenced by R&B, brass, jazz and gospel music. “I put it all together,” he says.
Andrews, now 43, is delighted to see his family’s musical tradition continue to thrive among his sons, cousins and other relatives. “We have a lot of young people coming up,” he says. “It feels wonderful to see another generation playing and watching us. We see that it’s going to carry on.”
Cultural Centers Four notable New Orleanians from the worlds of music, drama and food share their stories, offering an exclusive taste of life in this vibrant city
- Wendell Pierce: Hometown Hero The talented actor assists fellow citizens still recovering from Hurricane Katrina
- James Andrews: Family Tradition This jazz trumpeter/vocalist is a star in his own right
- Sasha Masakowski: Musical Life A fearless young jazz singer is making a name for herself
- Susan Spicer: Resilient Restaurateur An award-winning celebrity chef creates extraordinary eateries
- The Grand Tour When it comes to tours, no one does it better than New Orleans
Who: New Orleans native and jazz trumpeter who started playing the instrument at age 7. CDs include “Satchmo of the Ghetto,” “People Get Ready Now” and “The Big Time Stuff.”
Notable: Brother of trombonist Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and grandson of R&B singer and songwriter Jessie Hill.