This is not your daddy’s New Orleans jazz. It ain’t even your granddaddy’s. We’re talking a new, improved take on big band music that picks up where the greats like Duke Ellington and Count Basie left off and swings it in a direction that while faithfully anchored in the classic form innovatively breaks the mold. We’re talking a brilliant trumpet man and spirited singer James Andrews (jamesandrewsmusic.com) who brings his richly original style of Big Easy soul to the Twin Cities’ Cowles Center.
Andrews is dubbed the Satchmo of the Ghetto and, indeed, his hero and main influence is the immortal Louis Armstrong. His pedigree is undeniable as a protege of industry legend Allen Toussaint and he’s worked with, among others, the likes of Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and famed fellow New Orleans ace Mac “Dr. John the Night Tripper” Rebennack. For good measure he has twice performed at the Jazz at Lincoln Center New York – Tribute to Louis Armstrong, Sundance Film Festival and on the HBO hit drama Treme, doing the timeless old-school chestnut “Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo” which his granddad Jessie wrote. Describing his sound Andrews, not one for over-explaining things, told the MSR he simply, “took classic style of New Orleans jazz and put some funk on it.” Which works out well on his new album, Big Time Stuff, with producer, musician and writing partner Brian J. “It was a good experience, working with him. We had a good time creating the album. And I’m happy with the result. It’s a New Orleans soul album with a good time feelin’ to it. The flavor and feelin’ [is] a house party type of feeling. People cookin’ in the backyard, they can barbecue, have a nice time to this [music].”
The character of Big Time Stuff isn’t far removed from the joviality for which the original Satchmo is belovedly remembered. It sparks the kind of fun feeling that in the parlance of Fats Waller, gets the joint jumping. The playing is spirited, smooth. The singing brightly warmhearted. Make no mistake, though. Much as the artist acknowledges Armstrong as his idol, Andrews has own, distinct hand at the craft. “Keep That Music Playing”, for instance, combines the best of the true old-school with the kind of nasty mule-kick that leans toward the order of, say, James Brown or Kool & the Gang. With percolating trumpet and easy-breeze, cool-in-the-cut vocal (complete with a little scat). It features Cyril Neville of the famous Neville clan. Like Andrews said, his sound has so unkin’ funk to it. Accordingly, “Bet You A Dollar” along with trash talkin’ lyrics (“I bet you a dollar I know how many kids your daddy have) puts a bad to the bone brass section to work so mean somebody needs to open a window just to listen to the cut. In short, Big Time Stuff does real nice things to your ears.
May 19 at 7PM James Andrews (jamesandrewsmusic.com) headlines the first Artspace Artist Awards at Breaking Ground – The Artspace Celebration at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis. Supporting on the bill the Twin Cities’ own Ashley DuBose (ashleydubose.com). “By establishing the Artspace Artist Awards, we celebrate just a few of the outstanding artists who give so much to their communities,” said Artspace President Kelley Lindquist in press release. “Inspired by…individuals who made an impact on Artspace during their lifetimes – Dejunius Hughes, Su Job, Steve Kramer and Paul Brawner.”
All in all, it stands to be a worthwhile event and entertaining evening, especially with James Andrews holding forth in the flesh.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses at P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.