Trombone Shorty blows into the mainstream

Accomplished horn player headlines show at Rams Head Live

December 23, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Before the year got under way, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews was a New Orleans music star on the rise.

The 24-year-old trombone and trumpet player had toured with Lenny Kravitz and was the youngest person ever featured on the poster of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

By year's end, he had appeared on David Simon's HBO show "Treme," performed at Virgin Music FreeFest and garnered a Grammy nomination for his new album.

The rapid success was unexpected — not because he was young, but because he's a horn player. At a time when traditional jazz has fallen out of favor with young listeners, he was the lone trumpeter who commanded his own stage at the rock- and dance-heavy Virgin FreeFest.

"I didn't see 2010 coming. I just had shows in mind, just getting better and touring," he said. "It's just been a blessing."

Though he's been touring for years, the level of attention he received this year has resulted in some 200 performances at clubs bigger than he's ever booked before.

On Thursday, he'll perform at Rams Head Live, where the local band The Bridge will open for him.

New Orleans is full of musicians, and Andrews grew up in one of its better-known musical families. His grandfather, Jessie Hill, scored a popular hit in the 1960s with the song "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," and an uncle, Prince La La, wrote the classic "She Put the Hurt on Me."

Andrews' brother, James, 16 years his senior, continued that tradition with his New Birth Brass Band.

"My grandfather influenced my brother, and my brother was my biggest influence," Andrews said.

At age 4, he got his first instrument when his brother's band needed a trombone player.

By the time he was 7, Andrews had appeared on the main stage of the jazz festival with New Birth Brass. He spent weekends and days off school touring with the band.

About the same time, he started a band with other children from the 6th Ward. Call that his side project. While he had to fulfill his role as trombone player in his brother's band, he played small parades and birthday parties in the French Quarter with the neighborhood kids. Because there were only three of them, he had to learn other instruments.

"We didn't have a tuba player, so I learned the tuba. We didn't have a trumpet, so I learned the trumpet," he said.

Five years ago, he had made a big enough name for himself that when Kravitz was looking for a horn player, he called on Andrews.

"They flew me up to Miami. I just thought I was going to hang out for a minute and play for them," he said. "I didn't even bring any clothes with me." Two weeks later, he was on Kravitz's world tour.

Though he had been to some of those countries before with his brother's band, it was his first time performing in arenas and stadiums.

Before this year, Andrews had toured with his seven-piece band, Orleans Avenue, for four years, usually playing in clubs before audiences of around 200.

When the band's album, "Backatown," was released, he had modest expectations.

"I just play music. That makes my whole day. I can practice and be happy," he said. "I just wanted to keep growing and touring with my band."

But the album, unlike traditional jazz, appeals to young listeners with a sound that Andrews calls "Supafunkrock," which combines several genres.

In New Orleans, Andrews said, he grew up listening to all kinds of music.

"It was possible to see Ellis Marsalis playing and go right down the street and see the Neville Brothers," he said. "Supafunkrock is a musical gumbo. We throw all those musical influences into the pot and put it out there."

Since its release in April, the album has sold 44,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Coinciding with the album's release was an appearance on "Treme." Though it's doubtful the little-seen cable show raised Andrews' profile, the album helped attract bigger audiences on tour.

"When we play festivals, we've noticed that instead of playing early in the day, we're featured higher in the lineup," he said.

In September, he had a prime spot at the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, where Orleans Avenue was the only horn band performing in a show that included indie heavies such as LCD Soundsystem and M.I.A.

Instead of playing small jazz clubs, they've been booking venues ranging in capacity from 500 to 2,000 people, like Rams Head Live.

This year they've played nearly 200 shows, according to his management. That means he's singing and playing both the trombone and the trumpet almost nightly.

Andrews' expectations for the coming year are modest. "I hope to keep growing," he said.

He added that he hopes to put out a new album. He's laid down 20 sketches in the studio, and hopes to do 20 or 30 more before they go back on tour in February.

Touring next year should be just as intense, with 60 shows booked and 100 more waiting to be confirmed. But that's how he likes it.

"We only stop for one or two weeks," he said. "It's a lifelong tour for me."

If you go

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue perform Thursday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20-$25. Call 410-244-1131 or go to

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