Monday, June 17, 2024

Potent energy: Trombone Shorty talks Orleans Avenue sound, commands Wilson Center stage this week

Trombone Shorty, a.k.a. Troy Andrews, will perform this Wednesday at Wilson Center. (Photo by Justen Williams)

In the span of seven studio albums — the first three released on the small independent label, Tremé Records — Trombone Shorty has reached the pinnacle for a New Orleans musician

Leading his 10-person band, Orleans Avenue, the trombonist and trumpeter — whose given name is Troy Andrews — continues on the path to carrying forward rich sounds, styles and heritage of New Orleans music to the rest of the world. It’s a position Andrews treasures and treats with great respect.

“We come from a very magical place,” he said in mid-August phone interview, “and to be able to do my part and continue to add on to what the greats have done, it’s a special thing. To be able to carry that torch … it’s just emotional, like I carry that badge of honor in my heart. I stand on the shoulders of people who help lift me up to that area.”

It can be seen on the cover of his latest album, “Lifted,” wherein a 2-year-old Andrews is being hoisted by his mother, Lois Nelson Andrews, to view a second line parade in the vibrant Tremé neighborhood, listening to the jazz and R&B sounds on the streets. Andrews, now 36, has spent three decades creating his own music and playing with others, all in celebration of the Crescent City’s heart and soul.

His lineage to this music runs deep; Andrews was born into one of the city’s leading musical families. His brother, James Andrews III — who nicknamed Andrews Trombone Shorty — played trumpet in several notable brass bands, including the New Birth Brass Band. Known as “Satchmo of the Ghetto,” he now leads his own ensemble, James Andrews and the Crescent City Allstars.

His cousin, Glen David Andrews, a former trombonist with the Rebirth Brass Band, heads the Glen David Andrews Band. Andrews’ grandfather, Jessie Hill, was an R&B and jazz singer who had a hit single, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” in 1960, and Great Uncle Walter “Papoose” Nelson played with American rock-n-roll pianist Fats Domino.

By 4 years old, Andrews had picked up his first trombone and showed an immediate aptitude for the instrument. That year, Bo Diddley spotted the young lad in a crowd at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and invited him onstage. Two years later, Andrews was playing with musicians in second line parades and had his own band. 

His teenage years came with opportunities to play with R&B, soul and funk band — and iconic scions of New Orleans — The Neville Brothers. Thereafter, Andrews joined the Stooges Brass Band and attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts alongside close friend Jon Batiste (Andrews won a Grammy this past spring for his contributions to the Batiste album “We Are”).

One year after he graduated from high school in 2004, he toured with Lenny Kravitz as a featured member of Kravitz’s horn section. By the end of 2005, he had released his first three albums under his stage name, Trombone Shorty.

Just as Andrews had been mentored by some of the city’s most significant musicians, he decided in 2011 to give back in a similar vein and launched the nonprofit, Trombone Shorty Foundation. It has donated instruments to New Orleans schools, provides a host of courses to high school students, offers scholarship opportunities and has apprenticeships to give students real-life experience working with industry experts.

Also in the mid-aughts, the musician signed with Verve Records to release three albums — including 2010’s “Backatown,” 2011’s “For True” and 2013’s “Say That to Say This” — which propelled him onto the global stage. It also earned him opening slots on tours with rock stalwarts the Foo Fighters, Hall & Oates and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Andrews established a robust fanbase, with sounds that cross over between jazz and funk, R&B and rock, and hip-hop.  

His status was further affirmed when Andrews was chosen to follow Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers as the closing act of the city’s famed annual Jazz & Heritage Festival — perhaps the greatest honor a New Orleans musician can achieve.

“I’m just blessed that Quint Davis (producer and director of the festival) thought I was strong enough as a performer to be able to take over that spot,” Andrews said. “We have hundreds of bands in New Orleans, and for him to think that I was ready to give me that opportunity, it’s unbelievable.”

Andrews’ global popularity continued to expand. 2017’s “Parking Lot Symphony” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz albums chart and marked his debut under a new deal with Blue Note Records.

It was another five years before Andrews released “Lifted.” Produced by Chris Seefried (Fitz and The Tantrums, Andra Day), the LP dropped at the end of April. It features funk, gospel, street rhythms and Mardi Gras chants, and includes the likes of vocalist Lauren Daigle and Texas guitarist Gary Clark Jr.

Andrews said he put aside some of the precision of his previous studio albums in favor of capturing more power and energy of a Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue live show 

“I didn’t play it safe,” Andrews said. “The big key point of it was: Let’s perform. Let’s not worry about the studio.”

Normally, he said the band would go in, record, learn it as it is on the album and then “reframe it” for the live shows.

“But this album, I wanted to go there first,” Andrews said. “We went in and tried to get as much of the live sound that we could get in the studio while continuing to make it as tight as we possibly could.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue have never sounded so potent. The energy is apparent from the first notes of the opening track, “Come Back,” balancing robust horns and assertive beats with a smooth R&B melody. There’s jazz and some Earth, Wind and Fire-ish soul on “Good Company” and “Everybody in the World,” while “What It Takes,” featuring a sweet guest vocal from Lauren Daigle, blends pop and soul. Meanwhile, “I’m Standing Here” — with searing guitar runs from guest Gary Clark Jr. — and the title track bring gritty rock into the proceedings.

Several songs from “Lifted” figure into the Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue current tour. On a European tour earlier in the year, the shows lasted two hours or more and Andrews said that might happen again stateside.

“We have so much fun on stage, we don’t really feel it until we hit the last note, and our bodies are all tired and beat up,” he said. “We’re like, ‘Oh, we didn’t realize we played that long.’ But, you know, when the audience, when the love is there between the audience and the musicians, it’s hard to keep time. We just play.”

Trombone Shorty and New Orleans Avenue will perform at Wilson Center (703 N 3rd St.) on Wednesday, Aug. 31. Tickets are $25 and up.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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