Trombone Shorty Exports the Sound of New Orleans
Published: June 11, 2014
At the risk of sounding like an overwrought John Goodman tirade from Treme, there really is something unmistakable about New Orleans music. You only need a couple of hours walking down Frenchman Street on a weekend night to understand the difference. Put simply, New Orleans musicians can do it all: jazz, funk, hip-hop, pop, folk. And, crucially, they can do it all at the same time, in a way that makes complete sense. Just tick through the list of pioneering styles and musicians the city claims as its own—Louis Armstrong and jazz, The Meters and soul-funk, Big Freedia and bounce—it all makes a little more sense when you hear it co-existing so perfectly in NOLA.
No one over the past decade has done more to export this New Orleans sound quite like Trombone Shorty. Born Troy Andrews in the city’s spiritual Tremé neighborhood, the 27-year-old has practically been raised on the New Orleans bandstand, playing professionally since age 5.
Befitting this total immersion, Andrews internalized the New Orleans sound and hit on a way to bring it all together when he began playing his own gigs as a teenager. To be clear, the Trombone Shorty sound isn’t new. A trip to Tipatina’s or any number of New Orleans venues will reveal a half-dozen guys working this same party-jazz approach. But Andrews hit on a way to blow up the N.O. club experience to stadium-size, his James Brown-level showmanship and obvious multi-instrumental talents (vocals, trumpet, drums, trombone of course) allowing for an easy translation to festival stages the world over. It’s no small task to bring a crowd to their feet with a trombone solo, especially when they don’t have a belly full of Hurricanes to shake off any inhibitions. But that’s just what Shorty and his crack backing band Orleans Avenue have been doing on a nightly basis for the past five years.
On record, Shorty is a different story. Having started in the trad jazz style with his first recordings (billed under his birth-name), Andrews made the leap to mainstream notice in 2010 with the boisterous Backatown. That album remains his best, adroitly straddling rock, jazz and funk without surrendering too much of his raw, live energy to production value. His follow-ups haven’t quite hit on the right mix again, with his latest, last year’s Say That to Say This, sounding uncomfortably close to late-era Lenny Kravitz.
But it’s onstage where Trombone Shorty lives and breathes, and if the four years since Backatown’s release haven’t seen him produce much in the way of original material, his live set has only sharpened. Credit the Orleans Avenue band with a fair share of this live power, their five years touring the world together honing them into an air-tight force. Taken separately, they seem to personify Shorty’s assorted influences: the shaggy-haired guitar slinger, the Victor-Wooten worshiping bassist, the band nerd horn line, the gut-bucket percussion section. Together they simply click, those separate styles stirring together seamlessly, best heard on their show-stopping medleys, likely to include James Brown, Rage Against the Machine, Juvenile, Dr. John and Herbie Hancock on any given night.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue feat. John Cleary
9pm Sat, June 14
1281 Gruene (New Braunfels)