San Francisco Chronicle May 11, 2010
Matthew Hinton / AP
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans on May 2.
(05-11) 04:00 PDT New Orleans — A packed crowd of drunken white Southern college kids jammed into the House of Blues in the French Quarter last month on the opening night of Jazzfest to watch Trombone Shorty, New Orleans‘ brightest new star in a generation, play a punishing 2 1/2-hour set, only the first gig in the 10 busiest days of his annual calendar.
Between nightclub shows, guest appearances on other people’s bandstands, private parties and his own climactic set the following weekend on the fairgrounds stage at the 41st annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fair, it is harvest season for the charismatic 24-year-old dynamo, and he doesn’t let up for a minute.
“Two weeks straight with one day off,” he said on the phone from New Orleans the next week, after he finally had a chance to slow down before going on the road again for a Bimbo’s gig Friday night. “Every day.”
At the House of Blues, he hits the stage, his white dress shirt untucked, his necktie already loosened, cool and implacable behind the shades parked on his shaved head. His blistering nine-piece band, Orleans Avenue, slaps down a walloping groove behind Shorty, who is spitting fire on trombone.
These are heady days for Troy Andrews, who has been well known in New Orleans since he was so small he couldn’t push his trombone slide out fully. With the release of “Backatown,” the fierce, exciting major-label debut by Shorty and his group of young assassins, and his own recurring role in the new HBO series “Treme,” from David Simon of “The Wire,” Shorty steps forward to claim his place in New Orleans music.
Orleans Avenue’s music grows out of the city’s rich tradition of marching bands. All the while Shorty is casually breaking down boundaries, borrowing from rock, jazz, funk and Latin music, at the heart of his music is the sound of the New Orleans street bands. Since Louis Armstrong and before, New Orleans has always been a horn town. This music is his birthright.
“I’ve grown up in the Treme, and I played in a bunch of brass bands,” he says. “My brother, James Andrews, had a brass band. Horns are a leading instrument in the city. There’s no way I wouldn’t have that type of influence with what I’m doing. I’ve taken everything that I’ve grown up with, everything I’m interested in, everything I’ve played onstage with different people from country and western, rock ‘n’ roll to funk, and I’m just putting that with my tradition of what I’ve learned and what I’ve grown up inside of in New Orleans.”
At his own fairgrounds performance the first weekend in the Blues Tent, James Andrews, 16 years Shorty’s senior, and his band, the Crescent City All-Stars, whip up the crowd with old-fashioned New Orleans rhythm and blues. He and his younger brother joined trumpeter Kermit Ruffins onstage at the “Treme House Party” the next week.
“He can get a party started,” Shorty says about his big brother. “That’s where I learned all my entertainment thing from. He’s wonderful. He’s got that R&B/soul New Orleans thing, but he plays the trumpet. Oh, my God, he’s my biggest idol and my greatest influence ever.”
Shorty comes from New Orleans musical aristocracy. His grandfather Jessie Hill walked tall for years on the New Orleans R&B scene after his 1960 hit, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” Fats Domino was just another one of his grandfather’s friends hanging out in the living room. Today, Shorty lives in the Quarter, across Rampart Street from the old neighborhood.
“I grew up there,” he says, “and I’m actually the last person out of there to capture what it was like up until the storm, the last young musician. I might be the last one out of there, coming straight out of Treme.”
Andrews, in his own way, represents the rebuilding and rebirth of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina almost five years ago. Youth is the city’s hope as much as tradition is its strength. Trombone Shorty has emerged as the leading figure in a town full of young musicians trying to bring the old ways into the modern world, a heartening prospect for the people living in this beleaguered city who love their way of life in ways people who don’t live in New Orleans can’t understand.
New people in town
“Some of the people are not there that I grew up with,” he says about his city today. “We have new people that have no idea where they’re living. It’s just a house and different things. We’re trying our best as musicians and people from the neighborhood. Some of the people who live there and some of the people who don’t, we try to get together and save the culture.”
Shorty, who appears Friday in a benefit for San Francisco’s Blue Bear School of Music at Bimbo’s 365 Club, spends time working with young musicians in New Orleans. “I wasn’t always the best musician in the band,” he says. “The more I was able to do it, the more I was able to be around the real deal, I’ve grown. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m actually part of the Roots of Music, where we teach kids from 8 to 14 years old. I mean, some of those kids, man, I’ve got to start practicing a little bit harder or they’re going to take my job.”
To produce his Verve Forecast debut CD, “Backatown,” which is what they call Shorty’s old neighborhood in New Orleans, he turned to saxophonist Ben Ellman of New Orleans jam band Galactic. The album also features a guest appearance by the city’s musical godfather, Allen Toussaint, on Toussaint’s song “On Your Way Down.”
“That’s the only cover on the record,” Shorty says. “We actually got him to play on his song and I was nervous because we changed the music so much from his original way. He liked it. He liked the way we connected the old and the young, the old and the new together. I was like, ‘Oh, Mr. Toussaint – I’m so happy you like our take on it.’ ”
Kravitz lends a hand
Also lending his support, singing and playing guitar on the song “Something Beautiful,” was rock star Lenny Kravitz, something of a mentor to young Andrews, who first toured the country as a teenage member of Kravitz’s horn section. With his own band, Shorty managed more than 200 dates around the country last year and has several more appearances coming in “Treme,” which he praises for its authenticity.
“It’s things we talk about and things that we do every day, like, right now,” he says. “I like the show and I’m happy to see we can get New Orleans music and culture on TV.”
“Treme” producer Simon appears intent on stitching as much music as he can into his series about the ordinary people of New Orleans bravely putting their lives back together after the storm. Not only does every scene crackle with the piquant sound of New Orleans brass and funk, but many of the show’s plotlines also involve musicians, and a number of the town’s performers have been featured. Shorty approves.
“That’s the way New Orleans is,” Shorty says. “It’s driven by the music. Music is the heartbeat.”
Blue Bear Live: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Zigaboo Modeliste and Ivan Neville, and performances by Blue Bear youth musicians. 8 p.m. Fri. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., S.F. $150 (general $75; Blue Bear Community Members $60). (415) 673-3600. www.bluebearmusic.org/bblive.
E-mail Joel Selvin at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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