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Published: 2012/02/16
by Mike Greenhaus

Trombone Shorty’s Journeys from NOLA

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was, in his own words, a New Orleans journeyman for many years. But in the past 18 months the young horn player has naturally transitioned into a star in his own right thanks to an appearance on the HBO show Treme and the endorsement of more than a few living rock legends. Along with his band Orleans Avenue, Andrews has recorded two of the most successful New Orleans brass albums of the past decade and now packs clubs he once only visited for the occasional sit in. In January, Trombone Shorty sat down with to discuss his recent success, future plans and how Prince factors into his future.

Only a few days into 2012, you were onstage at Carnegie Hall playing with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Mos Def. I know you and Mos Def recorded a single together a few years ago in the wake of the Gulf Coast disaster. When it comes to an event like Preservation Hall’s 50th anniversary, how much time goes into your rehearsal?

“It Ain’t My Fault?” Yeah, we re-did it to raise some money for the fishermen during the BP thing. That was the first time we ever played it besides that night with Mos Def. Mos Def re-recorded that song together with Lenny Kravitz so we all know the material. We rehearsed a little bit. It wasn’t really a [formal] rehearsal, since we know the music already. We just ran through it just so we all know what arrangement we were going to do. But it was just great to be there with all types of different musicians, different genres. You know, just playing with them and learning some things. I was very happy to be there.

Of all the moments during the Carnegie Hall show, I thought that one showed the diversity of the New Orleans music scene.

Yeah, it all came together with the whole community. It was like a dream come true. Myself and Lenny are great friends and great men, too and I’m a big, big fan of Mos Def.

After that show you went to New Jersey’s Meadowlands to play “The National Anthem” during a playoff football game. What was that experience like?

Yeah, it was great. I was supposed to just go up there to do the benefit because I was supposed to be off the road right now. I was supposed to go up there to do the Preservation Hall thing and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall. And then they were like, “Ok, well we have another thing for you that’s coming together.” And it was that “National Anthem” at half-time for the Giants game. I’m like, “If you want me to come do it, “I’m flying my band up.”

It was a great experience. To be able to play in front of New York, in front of all those people on national television and just do what we do. It was great and I was very honored and blessed to be able to have the opportunity to do it. It’s New York, what can we say?

Speaking of your band, during the past few years Orleans Avenue has really come into its own. When I first heard of you, you were a sideman for Lenny and playing around New Orleans as an auxiliary musician. Can you give us a little background on how your group first came together? I know you have actually led your own band since you were a kid.

I’ve been a band leader since I was seven. But in New Orleans some people become journeymen. We just play with everybody and then focus on something later on in life. You know, I just want to play music so it doesn’t matter if I’m marching up and down New Orleans. Whatever it may be I’ll play anyway. In 1999, I went to New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. I come from a brass band community so we didn’t really have guitars and bass. We had tubas and single drums, a bass drum and snare drum. So when I got to the school and started to put together my own band I was very influenced by my brother and he had older musicians that played with him. So I wanted to just be like him.

When I got to NOCCA, I was already using A-List musicians in New Orleans who were older musicians around town. I had gigs because of my brother—he would give me some shows when he couldn’t do it, and I was developing my own name at the time. I would hire different musicians every weekend to play with me.

But [with that gig] we would have to play standards or whatever—standard New Orleans funk music. So when I got to NOCCA I picked the best five or six people in the class and asked them to join my band. They were just coming from learning. They weren’t really playing gigs like I was doing so I got with them and started putting together these bands and shows.

And then I told them that we got an offer the next day to play at the Maple Leaf Ball. But we were really just jammin’. We had no idea, but it’s been a while. But it’s been great because I was happy to be in a situation with other younger musicians that was challenging me—we challenged each other.

You mentioned that for many years you were a journeyman, playing with different bands and different musicians. In many ways, 2010’s Backatown is what turned you from a journeyman into a solo artist who happens to come from New Orleans. When it came to time to record its follow up, 2011’s For True, do you hope to pick up where the last album left off or showcase a completely different approach?

I knew I wanted to work with Ben [Ellman] from Galactic because I’ve been a big fan of those guys for a long time. We’re family. I always felt that Galactic understood how to make records and also keep the live aspect of their show. That might be the hardest thing for us to try to capture—our live energy on the record, which I don’t really think you can really do. But you can get close. And I doubt there was better person than Galactic to help us out.

So we got with Ben and did the record in New Orleans, so everybody could stay home. The album is always done first and, whenever I write songs, I always leave space if I want to take another solo or if somebody else wants to solo. I invited Lenny and Jeff Beck and different people in there and they just filled it up and joined our band for that one song.

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