Trombone Shorty traces influence to New Orleans

Trombone Shorty traces influence to New Orleans
September 26, 2010
By Walter Tunis

Troy Andrews' musical heart and inspiration hails from New Orleans. But some of the larger thrills he initiates onstage as Trombone Shorty come from using his Crescent City homeland as a launch point for musical journeys that can land just about anywhere.

During some of his festival concerts during the summer, Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue, indulged in an original tune called Neph. After getting the audience to clap along to its spirited syncopation, the trombonist switched to his other instrument, trumpet, and blew a sunny blues melody accented by a retro soul blast of wah-wah guitar. The band soon blurred the melody, Andrews instigated an old-school croon, and the groove morphed into Marvin Gaye's bedroom classic Let's Get It On.

The crowd, needless to say, went nuts, proving Andrews to be part New Orleans jazz journeyman and part retro-soul soldier. And that says nothing of the rock, R&B and even hip-hop references that abound on Trombone Shorty's newest album, Backatown. In short, Shorty, at age 24, is a new kind of New Orleans funkster. He is a generation-crossing stylist who holds fast to the city's regenerative musical spirit while pursuing a groove all his own.

At the close of a crisp autumn evening at the Courthouse Plaza on Sunday, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews held the long-elbowed instrument that earned him his nickname over his head like a sort of brass-fortified fist in the air.

It wasn't at all a symbol of defiance. The tireless carnival atmosphere he created through a one-hour, 45-minute set was too much fun for that. But the gesture was a token of the spirit and celebration that dominated this endlessly fun, free Spotlight Lexington performance.

Andrews hails from New Orleans and sports a musical bloodline that runs through Crescent City brass band tradition, funk and R&B. Sunday night, he was faithful not only to those inspirations but to the kind of inexhaustible party spirit that even the demon Hurricane Katrina couldn't whip out of the city.

That Galactic knows how to throw a party isn't exactly news. After all, the jam-friendly funk band hails from New Orleans, the city that taught the world how to throw a celebration fueled by musical invention.

But on the band's new album, ya-ka-may , the five core members of Galactic have fashioned some multigenerational fun that will surprise even the most devout Crescent City groove merchants. It brings together some of New Orleans' greatest musical ambassadors (Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Big Chief Bo Dollis), newer-generation horn stylists (The Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty) and stars of so-called "bounce music," New Orleans' brand of hip-hop (Cheeky Blakk, Big Freedia).

Think New Orleans music already knew how to span the ages? Then you haven't heard ya-ka-may .

no, the new HBO dramatic series Treme isn't a doc and doesn't pretend to be. But it presents jazz, and related New Orleans genres, on national TV in a major way for the first time in nearly a decade. Better still, it does so with the vitality, joy and street-level authenticity so sorely lacking in Burns' stultifying, 19-hour Jazz (which aired over several weeks on PBS).

In so doing, Treme — named for America's oldest black neighborhood, in New Orleans — stands to alter America's perception of a music long marginalized in our popular culture. Until now.

"This is just me being part of the city of New Orleans," Andrews said. "I mean, it's one of the only cities where we can see Ellis Marsalis playing in one club. Then, right next door, you might have The Neville Brothers. So growing up in the city, hearing all these different things and playing with so many different people over time was all I ever knew. The music just came through me as a kid.

"But I'm very influenced by hip-hop, and the beats of that style of music, too. Growing up, hearing that music on the radio and experiencing all of that at this particular time in my life, ... I mean, it had a big impact. I couldn't help but try and put everything together."

And so Trombone Shorty was born. Actually, the stage name stuck when Andrews began mastering trombone at such an early age that his arms were barely long enough to operate the instrument. Today, though, Andrews' blend of generational jazz and funk has him rubbing shoulders with some big-league pop names. He will tour overseas with Jeff Beck in October before returning stateside to wind up a fall tour by the Dave Matthews Band.

Similarly, Backatown sports cameos by Lenny Kravitz, who was Andrews' one-time employer, and the elder statesman of New Orleans' soul, Allen Toussaint.

"We celebrate everything, man," Andrews said. "It's like Mardi Gras year-round with us. But it's also cool to see all the new faces. We go to cities where people have probably heard of us, even though they've never checked us out. Then when we come out playing funk-rock with a trombone in front, you can tell it's something new and exciting to them. Maybe that will make them want to come to New Orleans and discover some of the other musicians."

So far, that's the case — on television, at least. Andrews is one of the native artists and residents featured as performers and actors on the HBO series Treme (pronounced trehm-MAY) that focuses on life in post- Katrina New Orleans. As Tremé is the very New Orleans neighborhood Andrews was born in, the series hits close to home.

"But that neighborhood is a small part of what the series is about," he said. "The show captures the views of everybody, from chefs and businessmen who are struggling, to people that are just trying to find their family after the storms, to musicians trying to get gigs to make ends meet.

"It captures a bit of everything from the city of New Orleans and the people that are just trying to move forward while keeping the city alive."

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