**Celebrating the music of New Orleans for Mardi Gras week**
He’s James Brown with a horn. Really, with two horns – because despite his name, Trombone Shorty is equally adept at blowing both the trombone and the trumpet, and ever since the first time I saw him perform live I’ve been completely blown away. In a city where brass players going back to Louis Armstrong are acclaimed royalty, Trombone Shorty, at age 33, is The King of New Orleans.
That first time seeing Shorty play, it was July of ’09 at the Pocono Blues Festival – a bit of a mismatched booking for him. His first major label release was still a year off in the future, but he had put out a few records on local labels. I knew him from just one (and on it, he hadn’t even fully assumed his name yet): “Orleans & Claiborne” by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews & Orleans Avenue. It was enough to get me and my son Max – then just starting high school but already an aspiring musician – to drive two hours to a remote festival where little else was of particular interest. When Shorty finished up the night, with James Brown-like whirlwind intensity, under a steamy tent crammed with more people as the set progressed and word spread on the event grounds, he had two fans for life. I saw Shorty again less than two months later, this time packing his high-powered 7-man outfit onto the impossibly small stage of Sullivan Hall in NYC’s Greenwich Village, and on this occasion making sure to bring both Max and his three bandmates¹ who had little idea about anything to do with New Orleans music (or, likely, of a small city club like this one, crammed with NYU students). All I can say is Shorty’s astonishing playing and absolutely incendiary performance – stirring together tastes of jazz, R&B and hip-hop with heaping helpings of funk and old-fashioned rock ‘n roll into a musical gumbo the band self-describes as “SupaFunkRock” – well, it left all five of us with our jaws hanging open. We knew we’d witnessed a superstar that night.
I’ve seen Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue shows many more times since then, and none have disappointed; the most recent was last summer at a Threauxdown extravaganza in Atlantic City where I brought my friends Duck, Cek & Hoosh and immediately turned three more first-timers into fresh ardent converts. Shorty’s smooth, multi-octave vocals and captivating stage charm were matched, as always, by his propulsive trumpet blasts and thunderous trombone howls – both a subtle and blunt force at once. And in fairness, he has been at this a while. Incredibly, he actually began playing trombone at age four – earning his future performance name by having the instrument itself grossly out-measure him – and first appeared on stage at the celebrated New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, alongside Bo Diddley, at that preposterously tender age. He regularly participated in brass band parades as a child, becoming a full-fledged bandleader by the age of six. And by his teens, he attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a regional music and arts training center for high school students in Louisiana, where among his fellow classmates was Jon Batiste, currently being seen as bandleader and musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
In the years since it’s safe to say he’s impressed legions besides me and my new-believer comrades. NOLA.com succinctly wrote of him, “Andrews’ performances are a blend of musical mastery and equally masterful showmanship.” And no less a revered New Orleans musical authority than Wynton Marsalis has remarked, “Troy possesses the rarest combination of talent, technical ability, and down home soul. I’m his biggest fan.” I would simply add this: Trombone Shorty can write, he can arrange, he can sing, he can move, and he can play. Like perhaps no one else you’ve ever heard, he can most definitely play.
The video glimpse I’m offering of Trombone Shorty – and for all the descriptions already presented here, consider it merely a hint of his full concert performance capabilities – comes from a fairly recent appearance on the aforementioned Colbert Late Show, doing the song ‘Here Come The Girls’ from his excellent 2017 album, “Parking Lot Symphony,” his first record for esteemed jazz label, Blue Note Records. At it’s conclusion, after a beaming Colbert hurtles back to the stage, you may even notice an unusually long embrace between Shorty and Batiste, two high school friends from New Orleans who’d made it together to a very big stage in New York.
After opening up his career at Jazz Fest as barely more than a toddler, Trombone Shorty, for the last five years, now closes it out. I hope that those who aren’t as familiar with New Orleans culture can understand: the closing slot of Jazz Fest..that is a big deal. In a city where musicians are unquestionably it’s biggest stars, that’s being as big a star as there is. For as long as most people can remember, the Neville Brothers’ set had shut down the 2-week festival on the main stage, themselves inheriting the tradition from another Crescent City legend, Professor Longhair. In 2013 that changed, and it became up to Trombone Shorty to fill those shoes. Following his performance that day, the venerable Quint Davis, CEO and Jazz Fest producer since it’s birth all the way back in 1970, was asked about that very transition. “The future is now,” Davis said smiling. “The music is in good hands.”
¹They’re still a band, Tundrastomper, 10 years later.