Trombone Shorty takes stage at Aspen’s Wheeler
ASPEN – Troy Andrews had a trombone thrust into his hands when he was just 4, which had both an upside and a downside. Physically, this was a bit of a comic nightmare; there are photos of Andrews, as a tot, playing an instrument that is far bigger in length than he is.On the positive side, at age 4, Andrews was too young to know just how unsexy an instrument the trombone was; too inexperienced to know that trombonists, no matter how talented or visionary, simply don’t become stars or bandleaders; too uneducated to know that the list of most famous trombonists is topped by Jack Teagarden, Tommy Dorsey, Kai Winding, Slide Hampton, Fred Wesley and Wycliffe Gordon – great musicians but lacking in name recognition.Of course, at 4, Andrews was just following marching orders. His brother James, a trumpeter who was older than Troy by 17 years, needed a trombonist for his band. “We didn’t need another trumpet player in the family,” said the younger Andrews, who began touring with his brother around age 5.Andrews, raised in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood, thought of brass instruments of all kinds as infinitely cool. Treme was home not only to ancient music history – it is home to Congo Square, where jazz originated, and to Louis Armstrong Park – but also to a living music scene, with groups such as the Rebirth Brass Band playing literally around the corner and second-line funeral marches a common sight. So a trombone was just a chance to hang with the older kids, a tool for making some noise – even if it was unlikely to lead to glory.”Even in New Orleans, I haven’t seen too many trombone players who lead a band. Maybe back in the day of Louis Armstrong, maybe his trombone player, Jack Teagarden,” Andrews, who started fronting his own band at age 7, said from his home in New Orleans’ Uptown district, a few miles from Treme. “I was going out there on a limb, just trying it.”Andrews, now 25, has become not merely a bandleader but a near pop star. Performing as Trombone Shorty, a name that dates back to his childhood efforts with the instrument, Andrews has appeared not only at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival but at the Bonnaroo Festival, Fuji Rock in Japan and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco. His group, known as Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and featuring an electric guitarist, Pete Murano, has appeared on Jay Leno’s and David Letterman’s late-night TV shows and has toured as the opening act for guitar master Jeff Beck. Its 2010 album, “Backatown,” earned a Grammy nomination, and its latest album, “For True,” released in September, features contributions from Beck, Warren Haynes, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz, in whose touring band Andrews used to play.Andrews didn’t achieve such heights by sticking to the standard roles of the trombone. When he arrived at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, in his early teens, he was “more into trumpet players and guitar players,” Andrews said. While he played New Orleans-oriented style around town with some of the city’s icons, such as Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers, he also was developing Orleans Avenue as something that existed outside the traditions.”I wanted to find young musicians, my age, who played all kinds of instruments. I didn’t know electric bassists, guitarists, before that,” said Andrews, who performs Tuesday at the Wheeler Opera House. “When I got to NOCCA, I was able to go inside my mind and mess with my imagination. I let each member of the band bring in their own influence. Naturally, we started to develop our own sound.” Andrews points out that Murano, his guitarist, is into jazz and Green Day; drummer Joey Peebles is into hard rock, such as Ministry; and bassist Mike Ballard grew up with gospel. “Everyone brought in what they were strong with, and I consider myself a student, someone who wants to learn what they know,” Andrews said.Andrews’ reputation has been built on being not only a stellar musician but a unique showman. For this he credits his brother James. “One thing I learned standing by his side – we people in New Orleans like to be entertainers,” he said. “He believes in getting the crowd involved. Over time, I developed into my own kind of entertainer.”Establishing his own musical identity came from trying to imitate his heroes – Kravitz, James Brown, Prince – and failing. “I imagine I’m trying to do something like them,” he said. “But I’m not doing it right. So it comes off as something different, my own.”What Trombone Shorty does had remained his own. His growing popularity has not yet created a noticeable demand for other trombone-led acts. “We’re definitely the only band that plays in front of thousands of people with a horn in front,” he said. “We’re the only thing like us. We’re in another zone. It’s mind-blowing and a blessing to be doing that.”Years ago, Andrews added trumpet to his arsenal; there are concerts where he plays as much trumpet as trombone. But he sticks with the name Trombone Shorty; using “trombone” in the name seems to have popular appeal. A few years ago, he billed himself as Troy Andrews.”And no one came except my friends and family,” he firstname.lastname@example.org
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