Trombone Shorty on Backatown, growing up in New Orleans and touring with Lenny Kravitz

Categories: Interviews

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A year before Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews) scored a number jazz album with his major label debut, he was already sparring with lions. Just check out the eight-minute YouTube clip of the young Shorty trading trumpet licks with Wynton Marsalis at the House of the Blues in New Orleans.

At the considerably young age of 25, Andrews understands and appreciates the heritage Marsalis represents. His grandfather, Jessie Hill, scored a hit with the Allen Toussaint-produced "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," and his older brother, James, a trumpet player, made sure he sat in with some of the Crescent City's greatest musicians.

But Trombone Shorty is just as likely to be opening up for rock artists like Jeff Beck and the Dave Matthews Band as he is playing at a jazz or blues festival. And he's toured and recorded with Lenny Kravitz.

On the Grammy-nominated Backatown, Trombone Shorty packs punchy blasts of horn-driven instrumentals that marry second-line rhythms with R&B and hip-hop. Backatown -- which shot to number one on the Billboard jazz charts immediately upon its release in April 2010, staying there for nine weeks, before climbing back on top early this year -- wraps New Orleans traditions in the brand of contemporary trappings that appeal to people the same age as Andrews. In advance of his show tonight at the Bluebird, we spoke with Andrews, who certainly has plenty of room to boast but comes across as nothing more than thankful.

Westword: Backatown has won you enormous critical praise and a Grammy nomination and has been number one on the jazz charts. What that has meant to you over the past year?

Trombone Shorty: It's an incredible feeling. I like to get out there and play and do the best I can and deliver a good show. I'm happy people are supporting what I'm doing. It's just a beautiful thing to be received by a lot of people and get the love from them.

You have so many different elements on your album: R&B, jazz, hip-hop, New Orleans street parade. Would you say that comes from growing up in a melting pot like New Orleans?

If I wouldn't have been in New Orleans, it wouldn't have sounded like that. I grew up under some of the city's legendary musicians: Tuba Fats, Kermit Ruffins, the Rebirth Brass Band. I spent a lot of time with the Neville Brothers.

All these people play different styles of music so when you have a kid growing up listening to and sitting in with different people, the sound of what I wanted to do was already in my head. I just had to get it out of there.

On Backatown, you cover Allen Toussaint's "On Your Way Down." I read that you were happy to hear he liked it. I'm sure he was a big influence on you as well.

A lot of people in the city, we play our music, and we do it, and we get up there and have fun. But Allen Toussaint has always been a man of perfection, and he's one of the people that I first saw in the city that brought a "show" mentality to his show.

He's one of the people besides the Neville Brothers and Dr. John that I've seen that put together a show, like the transitions of the songs and the hints of how tight the band was. I really learned a lot from watching him, and I wanted to make that a part of my show.

I was nervous about ["On the Way Down"]. We were kind of modernizing it. We didn't make it like a sad song. We put our spin on it. He told me we were connecting the old and the new comfortably.

How did Hurricane Katrina affect the music scene in New Orleans?

It's a new scene right now. A bunch of musicians had it set up so that they could pay a certain number of gigs every week and know that they could make their rent. After [Katrina] it was a whole new city when we came back. Everything was wide open. Everything had to change.

In one way it messed up a lot of musicians. In another way, I think the local crowd realized how important the music was. After Katrina they didn't really take it for granted. A lot of people I've talked to said, "I've moved back because of the music." That was really powerful to me.

How big an influence has working with Lenny Kravitz had on your career?

I put the New Orleans thing with the experience of Lenny being able to control 15,000 or 16,000 people a night, and I just watched him closely every night. I took that for the year that I was with him, and brought it back to New Orleans with my band.

Growing up in New Orleans, sometimes we'll learn a song, and it's up to us to play it and put our own touch on it. But with Lenny, I had to go in and learn it just like the album. Just having that tightness in my ear for all that time on tour, I came back to the city, and I rehearsed my band just like I saw Lenny doing with his band when I was in it. And it worked. Once we got that concept and got it together, it went to another level. Everything started to grow.

Tell me how young people respond to your music because it's not what they're used to hearing.

Most people my age are not into horns - unless you're from New Orleans, and then it's natural. Having that hip-hop influence with the horns on top of them, with the drums, some of those rhythms speak to my generation. Even though I'm not rapping on top of it, the groove of the song makes them feel good, it makes them move differently.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Los Amigos Invisibles, 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 15, Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax, $22.50-$25, 303-830-8497; 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 16, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-3399.


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