On December 29, New Orleans native Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty appears at the Jefferson Theater with his group Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Named by OffBeat Magazine as the New Orleans musical icon for the millennial generation, Andrews’s groundbreaking fusion of jazz, funk, blues, rock and hip-hop has been compared with the innovations of other Big Easy greats like Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Wynton Marsalis and The Neville Brothers. In fact, in lieu of Aaron Neville’s departure from The Nevilles in 2013, Andrews assumed the group’s two-decades-old gig of closing out the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
This past year, despite two straight days of rain, the trombone virtuoso closed down the festival via diving into the audience and shredding like a madman while dancing in the mud. “I felt like we needed to give the crowd something special that was in the spirit of the event—go out on a bang, you know?” says Shorty, as he describes a move that was more like something you’d expect to see at Lollapalooza than a jazz festival. “I always say I want to be a rock star, so the best way to make that happen is to act like one.”
The mentality is something Shorty’s fans have embraced. When asked about his decision to select Shorty as the Nevilles’ follow-up, decades-long Jazz Fest director and producer Quin Davis told The Times Picayune: “People’s understanding of heritage, when we say this is a heritage festival, I think they tend to look at it as in the rearview mirror. That heritage means you’re celebrating what passed, what used to be a long time ago. But in New Orleans, that’s not the case. Heritage here, you can see it through the windshield. It goes on, forward as well as back. And Troy is representative of where the music is going.”
Shorty’s approach is a no-holds-barred effort to update the music and make it accessible for new generations of listeners. “I mean, I’m always searching,” he says. “Some people ask me why I don’t just play jazz or rock or whatever—I tell them I really can’t decide because every day I hear something new. By me listening to every style of music—jazz, bluegrass, rap, rock ’n’ roll—I keep my ears opened. It’s always good to listen to all types of music because that means you’re always making it new.”
Shorty’s “making it new” can best be understood by his repertoire. For more than 15 years, he’s been mixing original and traditional material with a wide range of covers including Lenny Kravitz songs like “Sistamamalover” and “The Craziest Things,” “Brain Stew” by Green Day, and “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine. Shows often include renditions of Big Easy staples like “Saints” or “St. James Infirmary” alongside a James Brown medley or a jaw-dropping take on Ernie K-Doe’s “Here Come the Girls.” The result is a genre Andrews likes to refer to as “Suprafunkrock.”
Shorty says his nickname came from the fact that, “as a kid, when people saw me on stage or marching with bands, they’d say things like, ‘Look at that kid, the trombone’s bigger than he is!’” Getting his start as a bandleader at the age of 6, he joined groundbreaking New Orleans brass band The Stooges as an early teenager. And from there, things only got better.
In 2005, at the age of 18, he played in the horn section for Lenny Kravitz’s world tour. The next year, producer Bob Ezrin brought him into Abbey Road Studios to work with U2. Then, in 2010, his debut for Verve Records, Backatown, climbed to the top of Billboard Magazine’s contemporary jazz charts, stayed there for nine consecutive weeks and wound up earning a Grammy nomination. He’s toured with Jeff Beck, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl and, earlier this year, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In addition, Andrews found time to write a children’s book in 2015, telling the story of his relationship with the music of New Orleans. “While I want to carry the torch for that legacy, more importantly, I want to ensure this tradition continues,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and share my music but I always come home to New Orleans. I want to do what I can to inspire hope in kids who’re growing up under difficult circumstances but have a dream—I’m living proof that as long as you work hard, you can take flight.”
Shorty is working on a new album—his fourth for Verve—which he expects will be released in late 2017. About the record, he’s keeping quiet: “It’s gonna be big,” he says. “We’re confident this will be the best work we’ve ever put out.”