Life’s a Brees
New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty rides a Big Easy high
Sacramento, CA 95816
New Orleans is different. What do you expect from a town that believes Ernie K-Doe invented rock ’n’ roll?
But, of course, he did. And the city that gave the world K-Doe, and Louis Armstrong before him, and a host of other wonderful musical ambassadors after him continues to send forth emissaries of the second line, the latest being Troy Andrews or, as he’s better known, Trombone Shorty.
Coming up in the Treme neighborhood, the district that borders the French Quarter to the northwest, away from the Mississippi, Andrews, who recently turned 24, was surrounded by music. Treme was where Armstrong grew up; it’s described as the birthplace of jazz. Young Andrews was hung with his appellation when at age 7, in a jazz funeral parade where he wielded a trombone that dwarfed him. An older brother shouted “Trombone Shorty,” and it stuck.
His mother’s home in the Treme was a hangout and practice space for a number of local horn combos, including the Rebirth Brass Band. And instruments were left lying about, and kids will get curious and play with them. So Andrews turned out to have a thing for the horn; he now plays trombone, trumpet, keyboards and more—12 instruments, by his reckoning. His grandfather, R&B singer Jessie Hill, sang the iconic 1960 New Orleans hit “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” And one of the frequent visitors at his mom’s place was trombonist Keith “Wolf” Anderson, a founding member of Rebirth Brass Band.
“Just watching him as a kid was like a kid watching Kobe Bryant,” Andrews said. “The good thing about it was that I didn’t have to listen to him on CDs; he would come by the house and say hello to the family and show me something.”
Such direct transmission of musical knowledge from Anderson, another trombonist named Corey Henry and others was, according to Andrews, an everyday occurrence in New Orleans.
“It was great being in the city and having my idols right there,” he said. “My friends [from elsewhere] listen to all their idols on CD; I was able to do that and have them right at my front door. I was able to stand side by side with them and learn all these things, have them show me.”
And while certain groups, like New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, try to preserve the jazz style as it developed in the 1920s, others—like Rebirth—have been more open to working in new influences. Andrews, who today fronts a six-piece group called Orleans Avenue, understands that fluidity of change.
“I’ve been trained in jazz and everything since I was a kid,” he explained. “So as I got older, I realized—it was something that clicked in my teenage years—that I do not have to play what the people did in 1920. I’m supposed to use that and make it my own. I was just coming up in a different time, as far as having rock and funk and hip-hop, and that’s like an everyday part of my life.”
And Andrews’ new album, Backatown, which comes out on Verve Forecast Records on April 20, encompasses a collision of brass-band horn and overdriven guitar lines, old-school R&B vocals, funky rhythms and more. He uses a typical food metaphor to describe his characteristically New Orleans approach to music making, comparing it to cooking gumbo.
“Not only do you have rice and roux, but you have shrimp and crab and okra and different things,” he said.
So Andrews’ fortunes appear to be rising, and he’s on a high—new album, his city’s long-suffering Saints winning the Super Bowl. The latter he watched from The Ritz-Carlton hotel downtown with friends, relishing the sweet finish.
“Pandemonium,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing, people cryin’ and jumpin’. I even pulled out my horn by myself and did a one-man second line on the roof.”