Perhaps it’s because he picked up the trombone when it was twice his size, but Troy Andrews never really cared much that some music gets called jazz and other music gets called funk or rock or soul.
Trombone Shorty quickly became the nickname for the four-year-old horn prodigy, who grew up learning New Orleans music at the feet of local legends like the Neville Brothers and Allen Toussaint.
“I came up playing second line music, the street parades,” Andrews said. “In New Orleans, it’s a big gumbo pot of all this music I’ve been exposed to and everyone has their own strengths. It may help consumers buying music to distinguish things, but when you listen to my music, you just literally have to let your ears guide you. At the end of the day, it’s all just music.”
These days, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue can be found in just about any setting, whether it’s a gig like the Tucson Jazz Festival or, not even a month later, sharing stage with the Foo Fighters.
“I’ve been able to be blessed to play in all types of different arenas, from hip-hop shows to rock to funk to whatever it might be,” Andrews said. “Depending on what type of crowd it is, I’ll chose different songs, originals of mine, that will fit and then we just go for it. Being from New Orleans enables our music to cross all types of genres, so we just go out and play.”
More than any style or any one performer, Andrews credits New Orleans itself for shaping his musical world.
“If I wasn’t from this city, I wouldn’t have this type of sound,” he said. “It’s just a direct influence of everything I’ve taken in. “Being able to tour all over the world and bring this music, I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to rep New Orleans.”
A born collaborator, Andrews has toured in Lenny Kravitz’s band; performed with U2 and Green Day at the re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome; opened for Jeff Beck, the Dave Matthews Band, Daryl Hall & John Oates and Red Hot Chili Peppers; recorded with Eric Clapton and New Orleans legends like Dr. John and Galactic; performed the White House in 2012 and 2015; played at the Grammys with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Madonna and Queen Latifah; lent his horn to records by LeAnn Rimes and Zac Brown; and tons more.
“There’s no unnatural collaboration for me,” he said. “What happens is people see a horn and consider it jazz, but we don’t look at ourselves like that. We just play music. I dreamed of being able to just play music and collaborate with different people.
“My horn takes me into these different neighborhoods and genres of music that I probably would’ve never thought. To me, that’s the way life should be. You shouldn’t get stuck listening to one type of music and you shouldn’t get stuck playing just one type of music.”
The latest Trombone Shorty record, Parking Lot Symphony, is Andrews’ 11th, but first for the venerable jazz label Blue Note Records. A typically varied collection, Parking Lot Symphony opens with a dirge, veers into funk, delivers high energy covers of Allen Toussaint and The Meters, grooves toward hip-hop, and opens the door to collaborations with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Meters, Better Than Ezra, and Dumpstaphunk.
“At this particular point, the variety is just me now,” he said. “It’s just the natural instinct for me. When I’m in the studio, my band and I, we have to just go in and hash it out.”
The first step, Andrews said, was just to shut himself inside, with an array of instruments: trombone, trumpet, tuba, piano, organ, guitar, bass, drums. He just picked up whatever, started playing whatever came to him, and recorded it all.
“I can go in and have a completely trap sounding song that’s low down and dirty and use that as a foundation to turn out some other sounds,” he said. “By the end of the night, it might be a hard rock song, or I might have eight ideas that are completely different. We probably have tracks that we can sell to hip-hop artists right now that could be a complete album. We have tracks that are completely funk, completely R&B.”
The agenda-free creative process continued when Andrews brought his band in.
“I enjoy having everyone in my band have their own influences and we just go in there and let loose and create,” he said. “But it all still sounds like us. When we’re writing and being creative, we have to play as much as we can and let it all come out and then go choose the stuff that sounds like it’s supposed to be together. That’s the challenge for us. We build a store and then we go shopping.”
Thankful of his own good fortune learning music from legendary players, Andrews founded the Trombone Shorty Foundation in 2013 to mentor high school musicians in New Orleans.
“The foundation has always been a dream of mine, to be able to give back to the kids,” he said. “We used to do that without the foundation. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of people reach out to me and teach me and look out for me, so I’d go into the neighborhoods and teach kids. But after the storm, the neighborhoods aren’t the same and I wanted to be able to reach more kids, city wide, to be able to have an influence and to give them opportunities the way I was.”
Andrews’ philosophy is to make sure the up-and-coming musicians have reverence for the history of New Orleans music, and enough lessons to be able to play the traditional styles, but to keep the spirit of creativity alive and be able to add their own spin on things.
“The music is always growing and that’s a healthy thing because that makes it young and hip enough for whatever generation there may be at that particular time and that keeps moving the music forward,” he said. “We should respect and learn everything we can from the people who came before us, but I always try to encourage kids to be innovative.”