Trombone Shorty: A man and his horn

The musical prodigy will perform at the 21st annual Avila Beach Blues Festival this weekend

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comMay 21, 2014 

Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty.

COURTESY PHOTO

Because he’d grown up playing music, a 13-year-old Troy Andrews wasn’t nervous when he performed with legendary jazz man Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 2000.

This was a kid, after all, who had become a band leader at age 6.

“Growing up playing music in front of people, that was a normal thing,” said Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. “When I didn’t have my horn, that’s when I was the most shy and nervous.”

But even a young veteran like Andrews couldn’t help but be impressed a few years later when he performed to an arena crowd with rocker Lenny Kravitz.

“That changed everything for me,” he said. “So when I came back to New Orleans with my band, my mentality was different. It was bigger than just gigging. And whenever I play onstage, I always play as if I’m in an arena.”

Andrews will perform Sunday at the 21st annual Avila Beach Blues Festival, sharing the stage with Gregg Allman and British blues pioneer John Mayall.

“That’s what I like about playing all those festivals,” Andrews said. “I get to be a part of it and also be a fan and watch some of the great legendary musicians that opened the doors for me. Just to be mentioned in the lineup with those guys — that’s an honor for me.”

More recently, Andrews has become a headline act. But starting out, he would perform with family members.

“I’ve been playing since I was 4,” said Andrews, who plays trombone and trumpet. “When I saw 7, I was playing professionally with my brother’s band, traveling around the world.”

Andrews was born with a musical pedigree. His grandfather, Jesse Hill, was an R&B musician known for the song “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” His uncle, Walter Nelson, played lead guitar for Fats Domino. And his older brother, James, was a renowned trumpeter nicknamed “Satchmo of the Ghetto.”

While their neighborhoods in New Orleans provided a musical education, the city also had its dark side. When Andrews was younger, another brother, Darnell, was shot and killed while riding a bicycle.

It was around that time that James, 16 years older than Troy, took his brother on tour.

“I was playing shows and gigs with him in Europe,” Andrews said. “I was so young, it didn’t really matter to me what we were doing.”

After touring with his brother, Andrews returned to New Orleans, performing with his own band. Living in New Orleans, his neighbors included jazz legends like Allen Toussaint and the Marsalis family. By the time he was accepted to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Andrews was already a seasoned performer. 

“They said, ‘We know you can play, but we want you to understand the theory behind what you’re doing,’ ” Andrews said. “So it was mostly about them catching me up on fundamentals and education, which was great because once I learned what I was doing, I was able to incorporate different styles of music and not be uncomfortable with whatever genre I was playing.”

Gradually, he incorporated elements of funk, rock and R&B into his act, which became handy in 2005, when Kravitz needed horn players for his band.

Just out of high school, Andrews auditioned and got the gig.

“I had to learn about 15 years worth of music in two weeks,” he said.

Performing with Kravitz, before thousands of people, he said, was a watershed moment.

“At some point in life, you have one moment where life changes you,” he said. “And that’s what that was. That experience for me, at that moment, really opened my head and my eyes and gave me a vision of how far I could go.”

A year later, he found himself at Abbey Road Studios in London, preparing for an NFL pre-game performance with U2 and Green Day.

“I’m a big fan of both of those bands,” he said. “And here I am, 19 or 20, sitting at Abbey Road studio.”

Now back to performing with his own band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Andrews fuses all his musical influences into his act — occasionally offering some R&B vocals.

“Maybe singing a bit more will give my lips about 20 more years of playing,” he said, referring to Louis Armstrong, who began to sing more when excessive trumpet playing caused damage to his lips.

Andrews, who had to flee New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, still lives in his hometown — the origin of his musical roots. But the more well-known he becomes — and he’s still up and coming — the more he’s away from it.

“I’m just really scared to be disconnected from what’s going on at this very moment,” he said. “Like those creative things that are happening in our community.”

IF YOU GO

Avila Beach Blues Festival Gregg Allman, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, John Mayall
2 p.m. Sunday (gates open at noon)
Avila Beach Resort, 6464 Ana Bay Road, Avila Beach
$55 to $110
1-888-825-5484 or www.otterproductionsinc.com

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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