Hot brass man
Trombone Shorty brings Big Easy to Big Room
Chico, CA 95928
There’s a young woman I know who refers to the leader of this band as “Trombone Hottie,” overriding the guy’s stage name with a substitution that surely explains one component of this band’s appeal. But Mr. Shorty’s sexiness is only one of the attractions this ensemble has to offer.
Trombone Shorty, aka Troy Andrews, is making one of those explosions that occur every so often on the music scene. He’s made several appearances as a recurring character on the HBO series Tremé (which is appropriate since Shorty comes from that neighborhood in the Big Easy), and his picture was in The New Yorker just a few weeks back when he was headlining the Nolafunk Summer Jazzfest back in the Big Apple. His recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman was a standout, and his current album, Backatown, is climbing in sales after an avalanche of word-of-mouth praise.
I first saw him and his band, Orleans Avenue, up in Quincy at the High Sierra Music Fest back in June. I wrote at the time: “Given the opportunity, Trombone Shorty and his cohorts could probably get a nun, a rabbi, and an imam boogying together. The band is as tight as a rubber band on a Sunday paper, sounding like a mix of The Jazz Crusaders, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and their own damn selves.”
Bob Littell, who books the acts for the Sierra Nevada Big Room, has a knack for catching the rising stars, and he was prescient in getting the band now because it won’t be long before they won’t be available to play the smaller venues. Having seen him and his guys outside where an entire mountain valley could barely contain the music they were putting out, I am curious to see if the walls of the Big Room will hold in all that sound and vitality when they play there on Sept. 20.
Shorty has been playing in New Orleans musical aggregations since before his arms were long enough to reach the far reaches of the trombone slide. He is the grandson of singer/songwriter Jessie Hill, and his older brother, James, leads his own band as well.
I caught up with Shorty for a telephone interview last week as he waited for a ferry to take him and the band to Mackinac Island, Mich., for a show that was just hours away, and I asked him about his grueling touring schedule.
“I’ve played so many gigs,” he said, “and this particular tour may be one of the hardest we’ve done, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m trying to put smiles on people’s faces. If I didn’t play for two or three weeks, I’d start feeling weird.”
But surely there are nights when he must wish he didn’t have to do it all again, to take the stage and generate all that energy?
“Sure,” he said, “there are nights I feel like that. It’s just being a human: sometimes you’re tired, and the body says, ‘how we gonna pull this off?’ before we get on stage, but when the music kicks in, it carries me. And when I see the people waitin’ and smilin’, that energizes me. I might come off the stage wrung out, but for the time I’m up there, it’s all good.”
It dawns on me that I’m talking to someone young enough to be my grandson, a man who has, despite that gap of years, been places and done things that challenge my imagination. I asked if he thought his experience had made him older than his 24 years.
“I was just thinking about that,” he replied. “Yes, definitely. I’ve been around a lot of musicians, met a lot of people. I used to always be the youngest musician in any band I was with, and now I’m not the youngest anymore. There are guys in my band who are 22, and wisdom-wise, I think I’m a little older and wiser than most people my age because I’ve got the miles on me, and I’ve picked up lots of knowledge of traveling and touring. I’ve been doin’ this my whole life.”
He got excited when I compli-mented his drummer, Joey Peebles, a guy whose sense of rhythm could probably stir movement in inert matter.
“Joey’s the heartbeat of the band,” he said. “He’s a genius. I play drums too, and Joey always captures what I would play if I were on drums, and he seems to think it even before I do. If you’re a musician, your eyes have to be your ears and your ears have to be your eyes. My teacher told me that in school, and Joey’s definitely got that down.”
And what about the response he gets from the women in his audience, I asked.
He laughed. “Sometimes it can get a little hectic,” he replied, in a small miracle of understatement, “but that’s a good thing.”
His cell phone cut in and out. Behind him, I thought I could hear the churning sound of the ferry arriving to take him across the water to where those people will be waiting, all smiles, because Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue have brought the thing they love for those smiling people to hear.