[Dixielandjazz] Ernie Andrews interviewed -- Palm Springs Desert Sun, December 26, 2014
rsr at ringwald.com
Sat Dec 27 07:01:36 PST 2014
Jazz Legend Ernie Andrews to Play at Pete Carlson’s
by Bruce Fessier
Palm Springs Desert Sun, December 26, 2014
Ernie Andrews doesn’t have the name recognition of jazz singers like Joe Williams,
Billy Eckstine or Jon Hendricks. He cut his teeth in L.A.’s vibrant Central Avenue
jazz scene at a time when the world was watching Harlem and 52nd Street in New York.
Andrews, who turned 87 on Christmas, recently received more national recognition
when an album on which he is featured, “The L.A. Treasures Project: Live at Alvas
Showroom” by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, was nominated for a Grammy.
But he’s still so little known that Pete Carlson was able to book him Saturday at
his golf and tennis store in Palm Desert. His elite quartet will feature Nancy Wilson’s
pianist, Lu Matthews, and Ray Charles’ saxophonist, Rickey Woodard.
Andrews’ history with jazz icons like Charlie Parker, Harry James, Cannonball Adderly
and even trad jazz pioneer Bunk Johnson makes him a living history of jazz. He discussed
his past in a recent telephone chat.
The Desert Sun: When I think of your sound I think of Joe Williams, Big Joe Turner
and Jimmy Rushing.
Ernie Andrews: We came along together. I was with Joe Turner in 1947 in New Orleans.
We headlined together. Jimmy Rushing I knew for years. I came up with Joe Williams.
He and I were friends for 20 years, at least.
Sun: Was Jimmy Rushing an influence?
Andrews: No, no. I sing conviction. I’ve practically lived everything I sing. That
makes it real. If the audience can listen to you sing some songs and say, “I’ve been
there; I know what he’s talking about,” that makes it better.
Sun: I know you’ve got conviction! But where did you get it? >From church? Blues singers?
Andrews: Well, I started in Philadelphia. I used to go and see Jimmy Lunceford, Count
Basie, Earl Hines -- all of the great shows when I was 9, 10 years old. I ended up
in Louisiana in ‘39 or ‘40 and went to school there for four or five years. While
in school I was with Bunk Johnson, the great trumpeter. He was my music master at
Jeanerette Junior High School! I played drums with the school marching band.
Sun: So you were as influenced by instrumentalists as by singers?
Andrews: More or less, I was a church singer. We were all singers. My mother was
from Louisiana and her mother could sing like a harp. She had two brothers and sisters
that were in the church choir and I learned to sing at the church. My father was
from Virginia and he could sing.
Sun: I was wondering what made you take a jazz path instead of the blues of Muddy
Waters and Big Bill Broonzy.
Andrews: I didn’t know enough about that. The people I followed weren’t really the
down-home blues and the cotton field singers.
Sun: You came to Los Angeles in 1940. What was Central Avenue like for a kid from
the church? Culture shock or Juilliard?
Andrews: It was culture shock. I went to Jefferson High School with Mr. (Sam) Brown,
who brought up so many of the great musicians like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Criss.
I can’t begin to tell you how many of us went over there.
Sun: Miles Davis went to Juilliard in New York, but dropped out and went to the clubs
in Harlem and he said that was Juilliard for him. So I was wondering, was Central
Avenue that for you?
Andrews: Oh, yeah. I went to New York in 1954. I was working opposite Charlie Parker
and Dizzy Gillespie in Birdland and I was scared to death! I knew them all my days
when they came to Los Angeles, but when we tied up in New York, oh, man, you talk
Sun: What was Bird like?
Andrews: Whatever he did with that horn, it was intoxicable! (sic) Through all of
his trials and tribulations, he was phenomenal.
Sun: What did that do to your singing? Did you rise to the occasion?
Andrews: Of course! When I was younger, I would get on the stage and come through
Central Avenue and see all these great players -- the Gerald Wilsons and Benny Carters.
They would let me work with them and they would tell me, “Sing what you know and
don’t try to add nothing to it. Give it to us and get off our stage cuz we don’t
have time to waste with you!” I was very fortunate to know these people.
Sun: What was the most exciting scene you were a part of?
Andrews: In ‘59, I was around New York, trying to get started, and I went with Harry
James. Betty Grable heard me out here and she called her husband, Harry, and said,
“I heard a gentleman singing that needs to be with your band.” So I joined him in
1959 and stayed 10 years. I got to travel across country with Harry. It was a great
school for me.
Sun: That’s who Sinatra started with. Did you know him?
Andrews: Oh yeah. Sammy Davis introduced me to Sinatra. He came back stage at the
Flamingo (in Las Vegas) and asked me had I met Francis Albert Sinatra? I said, “No
I hadn’t,” so he took me out to meet him.
Sun: Had did rock ‘n’ roll affect you?
Andrews: I didn’t get into that and I didn’t get into the rhythm ‘n’ blues. I could
sing the blues, but it was a different kind of the blues, like Joe Williams. We didn’t
go really down home with them.
Sun: One of my favorite experiences was at the Jazz Celebrity Golf and Jam Session
in Palm Desert. I was standing next to Joe Williams as you were singing “All Blues”
and he responded to you in song. I was like, “I’m in the middle of a musical conversation
between Ernie Andrews and Joe Williams!”
Andrews: And my man up there, the great singer on ‘The Love Boat,’ Jack Jones. That’s
my man! What a singer! He jumped up on stage, he and Mike (Costley), and they tackled
Sun: I remember that. You sang, “Alright, Okay, You Win.” It was amazing!
Andrews: Jack Jones was with Woody Herman’s band when they had a theater in the round
halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. It was two bands in this place and
I was with Harry James’ band and he was with Woody Herman’s. That was a day!
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