Interview: Trombone Shorty gets to the heart of New Orleans brass

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, with Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Hancher parking lot — Friday, Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Trombone Shorty

Riverside Casino & Resort — Saturday, Mar. 10 at 8 p.m.

Trombone Shorty -- photo by Paulo Phillippidis
Trombone Shorty — photo by Paulo Phillippidis

Eight long years ago, Hancher Auditorium was decimated in flooding that hit all of eastern Iowa hard. Now, the resilient venue has returned, triumphant. On Friday, Sept. 16, they plan to celebrate that return with a free outdoor concert featuring some artists who know all too well what it means to rebound and reinvent after a flood. After a 5 p.m. “family-friendly tailgate,” the music in the Hancher parking lot kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with a slate of New Orleans’ finest musicians from both the old guard and the new. First up is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, an act that kicked off the opening of the original Hancher Auditorium in 1972.

Following, at 9 p.m., is Troy Andrews, a musician who has been active in the NOLA brass scene since age 6. As Trombone Shorty, he and his band, Orleans Avenue, have been infusing a freshness into the city’s traditional music, drawing in wildly different genres and sounds with curiosity and reverence. Andrews gave Little Village a little bit of his time recently for a chat about the future of tradition.

Just to get it out of the way, I’m curious — have you and your family and your band all fared alright in the latest storms down there?

Yeah, you know, New Orleans actually made out OK; it’s just in Baton Rouge, just about 45 to an hour away. Everybody made out alright — probably not emotionally, because we’re coming up on the anniversary of Katrina, so it could happen the same … it just reminds us. Other than that, everybody’s doing OK.

Good, I’m glad to hear that. I was down there just recently. I have newly minted in-laws in the Slidell and Hammond areas.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!

I just got married in Slidell a couple months ago.

Oh, wow — well there you go. You’re part of the family!

That’s what I hear. It’s definitely a wonderful environment down there, very welcoming.

Yes, yes. Always.

You were born and raised right in the city — have you ever moved away? Have you ever spent a significant amount of time away, or has that always been home?

Besides the time that we had to move because of the storm, which was still in New Orleans … I had an apartment in Dallas during those months, but I only stayed there, like, two weeks — 2 days here, 2 days there, going away for 6 months, then coming back for, like, another week or so. Other than that, no, it’s been mostly traveling the last ten years. I haven’t lived anywhere else, besides on the tour bus.


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I feel like a lot of what you stand for musically, and beyond, is very much rooted in the traditions there. I’m very interested in the Trombone Shorty Foundation, if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about that.

There’s an unspoken tradition of how people pass along music and knowledge to some of the younger musicians, to keep the heritage going and the legacy of New Orleans, and I just wanted to do that in a different format. When I was coming up … I was getting a lot of on-the-job training and playing and just learning in a real setting. And I also grew up in the Treme neighborhood … that was a natural neighborhood where a bunch of great New Orleans musicians lived. Given that New Orleans is a little different now, and the Treme is not the same, I wanted to be able to reach out and reach a bunch of students — students of music city-wide. You know, some of them come from Hammond, some of them come from Slidell, up there, Kenner, or Covington.

So I just wanted to do that, give these kids an opportunity to learn everything in one setting — ‘cause I learned a lot playing with the older musicians, I learned how to play music of course, but there were some certain things that I didn’t learn until later on about the music business. So I just wanted to give the kids everything that I learned in one setting, to where they at least know that these things exist outside of music — there’s contracts, there’s lawyers, there’s … copyrighting, trademark — things that it just took a little time, that of course as we are evolving in life, in music: as musicians we learn about different things when we get together. I just wanted to let them know that these things exist, so when it comes to it, they have some kind of knowledge. So the Foundation … is giving them the tools that they need to be prepared.

That’s wonderful! Do they do any recording, as part of the work?

We have a recording class, where they learn how to record also. So, I’m not sure — they probably record each other … We make them compose songs and help each other. Some people sing, some people don’t sing, some people … create tracks that other kids will want to sing on … We have a teacher there that’s teaching them the technology side of it also.

That’s so wonderful to bring all of that together. And of course it’s so important for them to be learning to work together in that way, to be building those relationships that are so important in a business that can be harsh sometimes.

Absolutely. Some of them will keep learning; they might even create a band out of the friends they made at the school.

How many students do you serve with the Foundation?

It changes from time to time. I think we may be up to about 50 or 60 now.

That’s wonderful. You mention singing earlier — it feels like there’s a lot more vocal work going on on the most recent album you did than on some of your previous ones. Is there any particular reason for that?

Things are just happening organically, and I find I’ve been getting more comfortable singing over the last couple of years. It’s a fun things to do, and it just happens like that. I don’t know if I actually sit down and thought about it, but it seems like it’s going … into that zone a little bit. It definitely helps us reach a much larger audience. It helps people understand. I can sing a little bit during a song, and then I can play a solo, but it’s not just a bunch of horn stuff all day. It gives us a different avenue to open up, for people who might not even know what a trombone is, they’re able to connect with that. But it’s just happening like that. Things in the last couple of years changed so, the more we go on the road, the more songs we write, the more we put together a different show — things like that just happen naturally.

In terms of the writing process for you — you play so many different instruments; where does that kernel usually start for you? Where do you first hear the melody? Is it in the trombone?

It’s very rarely in the trombone. I probably go to the piano or the keyboard to write a lot, but sometimes even just bass guitar, just a bass line. And if I don’t have any other instruments around, then I’ll record all the parts on the trombone or the trumpet — I’ll try to imitate the guitar lines that I want or the bass line, and I’ll just play it on the horn, and then I’ll have the band to replay it. And sometimes, it’s just a drum beat. I’ll just have a drumbeat going and then I’ll create some things from there. And it all changes, y’know. Sometimes it’s just regular chords. Sometimes there’s a melody. Sometimes it’s just me mumbling a bunch of stuff that don’t make sense, and I build from there.

Yeah, the music makes it make sense, huh?

Yeah, yeah, definitely.

You’ve played with a wide variety of different guest musicians on your albums: Alan Toussaint on your first album, then Kid Rock and Jeff Beck on your second. Who would you say is your dream collaboration? Who would you love to get in the studio with?

I’d like to get in the studio with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. Of course, Stevie Wonder — I had a chance to jam out with him in New Orleans a couple of months ago, but to get in the studio with him would be a different type of atmosphere. Drake is incredible; I’d like to get in there with him and see what we could come up with. I just love great musicians, people that’s pushing music … You don’t even have to be anyone famous — there’s great musicians that’s unknown, that pushes me to another limit. I’m just really, really taken by great musicianship and having fun. I might discover someone in the next couple hours that I want to get in there with because I might be inspired by them. It changes all the time. But those people would be great to get in there with.

When you speak of other musicians pushing you to your limit: What limits do you like to push? You’re accomplished in a lot of different musical areas. What excites you? What’s new that you want to learn?

Well, every day there’s something new. I’ve been listening to a lot of Latin music, a lot of Cuban music, just trying to see how those trumpet players are approaching their solos and different things. Trying to play my trombone over some metal music to see which way I could solo and make that make sense. So I’m always reaching for the things that we don’t necessarily associate with horn playing. That’s been my mindset since I was a kid, always go outside the box, try the thing that we wouldn’t think about. So it’s always something new, something different — just all types of stuff.

Where do you see the future of brass going, especially in New Orleans, as a city that’s home to it in so many ways? What do you see out there — what do you see coming next?

In the city of New Orleans, brass is, like, just the number one thing. You can find people playing on the street. In the city of New Orleans, you find more horn players than any guitar players. It’s just the home of that kind of thing … That’s probably the only place where you’ll see that happening: brass musicians the ones leading the pack. As long as New Orleans stays like that and we’re able to continue pushing forward … we can have an impact around the world.

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