Trombone Shorty Arrives Like a Hurricane
By J. Doug Gill
Most smooth jazz fans had no idea what to expect when they saw the unfamiliar name “Trombone Shorty” as the first act of the last day of the 2010 Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival presented by Bank of the West. The early risers quickly got a week’s worth of cardio and an adrenaline rush as they danced and cheered to the raucous 11:30 a.m. performance by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Those who stayed in bed that morning missed one of the best performances of the weekend. However, they will have a second chance to see this brass-burning whirlwind when he returns to the Newport Beach Jazz Festival on Sunday, May 15.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews began following his now-distinct musical path at age 3.
When a child enters the world through New Orleans’ historic Tremé district––otherwise known as “the most musical neighborhood in America’s most musical city”––there should be little doubt that music would play a major role in his or her life.
Treme, the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, could arguably declare itself the center of the jazz universe, and there is no one who could prove a better ambassador for such a storied locale than 25-year-old Troy Andrews.
“My mom says that I was humming ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ when I was born,” said Shorty, during a phone interview between shows in New Orleans last month. “We always had instruments all over the house.”
Also plentiful in the Andrews home were musicians; Shorty’s older brother James is a well-known trumpeter who is well respected on the New Orleans jazz scene.
“It’s in the family,” said Shorty, who is proficient in trumpet, trombone and a host of other instruments. “My whole family played. I also think everybody in the neighborhood has some type of musical influence, even if they’re just singing at the bus stop. It's all about being musical."
Shorty started out banging away on a set of drums––that is, when he wasn’t playing what he refers to as the “smallest trumpet in the world.”
At age 4 he was saddled with the “Trombone Shorty” moniker by his brother, who observed Shorty marching in a brass band parade and noted that the instrument was longer than he was tall.
“I could make an elephant sound on the trombone almost right away,” Shorty explained, “and my brother was a huge Louis Armstrong fan. Since Louis always had a trombone player at his side, I was going to play that trombone.”
By age 6, Shorty was playing both trumpet and trombone in his brother’s band, and by 12 he was accompanying that band on the road.
“James was my first music teacher,” Shorty said, sounding remarkably fresh given he’d spent the last month in Germany, Greece, France and Spain touring, “but I also benefitted greatly learning from some of the neighborhood musicians like the Rebirth Brass Band and Kermit Ruffins.”
The best advice he ever received from these accomplished musicians? “Always make sure you take your wallet on stage with you,” he quipped, finally exposing some of the playful, hyper-energetic persona that is the trademark of his live performances.
Already a phenomenon before his arms were long enough to fully extend his trombone’s slide, Shorty entered his teen years as a genuine sensation. Those fans who had previously followed Shorty because of the novelty of his age were now flocking to his performances because, quite simply, this kid could play.
After stints in his brother’s various ensembles Shorty recruited a few young musicians from the neighborhood and formed his own band. He and his bandmates soon started jamming in New Orleans’ famed Jackson Square, where on any given weekend the kids would play––not just for the love of the music––but also for all the spare change they could collect. It wasn’t unusual for the boys to finish such sessions with up to $400 apiece in their pockets.
Shorty’s prowess would lead him to the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), whose A-list of celebrated graduates includes Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr. and a host of others.
“I went to NOCCA to learn how to read and understand music,” Shorty explained. “I started out playing music by ear and was already playing a lot of the standard jazz stuff. It was sort of a backwards learning experience.”
After NOCCA, Shorty’s career took off in a manner that can only be described as meteoric.
As 2005 dawned, Shorty found himself headed to Miami to audition for Lenny Kravitz. The rocker was ready to head out on tour and was looking for a horn player. Kravitz and Shorty shared a mutual friend in New Orleans resident, Sydney Torres.
“Lenny called Sydney to ask if he knew any horn players, and Sydney told him about me,” Shorty said laughingly as he thought about Kravitz’s initial reaction. “But then he told Lenny that I was only 18. He wasn’t convinced that an 18 year-old kid could have soul.”
Once Lenny succumbed to Torres’ lobbying effort, Shorty joined Kravitz in South Florida and never looked back.
“To be able to play in that band and learn so much was huge,” Shorty said. “That time with Lenny prepared me for playing in arenas––for playing in front of big crowds.”
The Kravitz tour would also include moments and memories that weren’t so fond. Shorty was home in New Orleans on a short break from the road when Hurricane Katrina crippled the city.
“I had to go right back out on tour after it hit,” said Shorty, recalling his first tour of Europe. “My mom was giving me updates while I was on the road. After that storm people would tell me they felt like they had to get out and experience the city in case it would one day go away permanently. That’s the flavor of the city that I try to put in my music…the spirit to just keep going.”**
**The complete Trombone Shorty story can be found in the May issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 10 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except November and January), for $32. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, including his complete tour schedule, visit www.tromboneshorty.com.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Fair Grounds Race Course, Gentilly Stage
1751 Gentilly Blvd.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival presented by Bank of the West
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California
Thornton Winery’s Champagne Jazz Series
32575 Rancho California Road