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FEATURES -- Trombone Shorty Interview

Trombone Shorty

New Orleans native helps shine a light on his beloved city with his musical gumbo and TV’s hit show Treme

trombone shorty
Trombone Shorty at FitzGerald's American Music Fest, July 2010. Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

By Eric Schelkopf

Fans who were upset that Trombone Shorty's set in June at the Blues On The Fox festival in Aurora was cut short, because of an incoming storm, had another chance to see him at On The Waterfront festival in Rockford recently.  He also performed at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, IL for the club’s annual American Musical Festival over Independence Day weekend.  Every time Shorty and his ace band perform, they win avid new fans.

The 24-year-old New Orleans trombone and trumpet player - born Troy Andrews in the Treme neighborhood in New Orlean's 6th Ward - has become more of a household name this year with his appearances on HBO's Emmy-nominated show Treme, and the release of his CD Backatown, which entered the Contemporary Jazz Album chart at number one and spent nine weeks there.

His song "Hurricane Season" is the opening title song on MTV's The Real World: New Orleans. In October, he will join the legendary Jeff Beck on his U.K. tour.

I had the chance to talk to Shorty about his banner year and what it was like to play alongside Bo Diddley at the tender age of 4.


Q - I saw you in downtown Aurora in June. It's too bad they had to cut it short because of the incoming storm. You had the crowd going!

We were just getting going. We had a lot of music we wanted to lay on everybody.


Q - You guys just played in Brazil. How was that experience?

That was amazing. We played at a festival. This guy is in love with New Orleans and he created this festival called the Bourbon Street Festival. He brought us down and we headlined. He has a club called the Bourbon Street Club and we went to play in front of 20,000 people on the street. It was really fun.

Even though people couldn't really understand what I was saying, they enjoyed the music, and they were reacting to the sound and different textures.


Q - Speaking of New Orleans, you made four appearances on the show Treme this past year. Do you think the show is putting the spotlight back on New Orleans?

I think everything is helping. I definitely think the show is very authentic. Not only is it helping put the city in the spotlight, but it is also giving different views from people. You are getting the real New Orleans besides the French Quarter. I think it is definitely helping. You have millions of people watching it. They really get to see what we go through every day.

I'm trying my best to represent the city as well as I can. Plus, the show is helping musically. It's the most non-commercial music that we have on TV. 

Trombone Shorty slides it
Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Q - Is it even more special for you to be on the show because you grew up in Treme?

Anytime you get to be on TV representing what you love is always a special thing. I'm part of the rebuilding process. The way I can help is through music.


Q - This has been a huge year for you. Did you think when the year started that you would have all these opportunities?

I didn't even think about it. I've been playing so long that the only thing I know how to do is just play and different things happen. It's wonderful. I just want to continue it and keep it going. We get a lot of love from people; that's what is most exciting. That's my inspiration to keep going.


Q - It seems like your career started out with a bang, playing with Bo Diddley at age four. Do you have vivid memories of that?

I remember playing that day with my brother James, who is responsible for me playing music. I remember we played in a parade during the Jazz Festival. The people picked me up and crowd-surfed me to the stage. I got on stage with Bo Diddley, and I remember blowing some loud notes, just making some sound. I don't even know if I was doing the right thing.


Q - Do you remember him giving you any advice?

The only thing I remember is that he was looking at me and saying, "Blow. Blow the horn."

Trombone Shorty Closeup
Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Q – Your new CD, Backatown, features a number of guest musicians, such as Lenny Kravitz, Allen Toussaint and Mark Broussard, and it was produced by Galactic's Ben Ellman. Was this kind of like your dream team?

I wanted to work with these people because they are some of my favorite musicians and artists that I listen to on a regular basis. I played with these genius musicians and they helped me out as a kid.


Q - What did Ben Ellman bring to the table?

I thought he was a great choice to produce the record because he understood the live aspect of Galactic. I thought he would be the one person who could understand how we could translate the live energy to the record and still make a decent album to where people can fall in love with the songs even if they never heard us before.


Q - You've played with so many people already. Do you have any dream collaborations?

Yeah, I want to collaborate with Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Jay-Z and Little Richard. I've listened to all those people and I'm inspired by them. I just really want to do something with them.


Q - You call your music Supafunkrock. Is that a reflection of your musical influences?

Supafunkrock is basically high energy, it’s funky, it’s rocking, it's just a musical gumbo. People used to ask us what kind of music we play. It's not really jazz, it's not really blues, it's not really funk, it's not really hip hop. There are so many things rolled into one, that we just call it Supafunkrock.

To me, music is music. Putting a label on it only helps sell and market it.


Q - You are a trombone and trumpet player and are leading a band. Do you see yourself breaking ground?

I don't know. In New Orleans, we have people who play the washboard who lead bands. It's something I've done all my life.

Eric Schelkopf has covered the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago for the past 25 years. Visit his informative blog at:
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