KIOS-FM

Trombone Shorty Pushes Tradition Forward

Apr 25, 2017
Originally published on April 23, 2017 7:07 am

It's hard to imagine an artist more steeped in the culture of New Orleans than Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. Andrews grew up in the Tremé, a neighborhood that's become practically synonymous with brass-band music. At age 4, he marched in the street with his brother's band; by 13, he was playing in the New Birth Brass Band. He's also donated instruments and founded the Trombone Shorty Foundation to help pass along New Orleans' musical culture to a new generation.

Yet Andrews has long shown an interest in not just preserving New Orleans' brass-band tradition, but keeping it up-to-date. His new album, Parking Lot Symphony, is no exception: You can hear street rhythms interwoven with funk, R&B and rock influences in tracks like the title number and a cover of Allen Toussaint's "Here Come The Girls," made famous by Ernie K-Doe.

The album also showcases Andrews' ability to play a wide range of instruments. In "Tripped Out Slim," he's on trombone, of course — but also tuba, guitar and trumpet.

"Before I introduced the band to the music, I actually went in the studio for about two weeks — myself and just an engineer," he says. "He set up a bunch of instruments in a circle for me, with microphones, and I was able to jump from each one whenever an idea came, and keep rolling to build some of those tracks."

It's clear from his music and philanthropy that keeping tradition alive is important to Andrews. At the same time, he's optimistic about where New Orleans music will go next.

"I think it's gonna be OK," he says. "We have new, younger musicians that's coming in, even younger than me — that's influenced by different styles of music. They're influenced by hip-hop that's on the radio right now. ... So when I see that and see how excited they are just to be making music, I think the future of the music is in good hands."

Web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

It's hard to imagine an artist more steeped in the culture of New Orleans than Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY SONG, "IT AIN"T NO USE")

NEARY: He grew up in the Treme, a neighborhood that's become practically synonymous with brass-band music. Also important to his bio is his passion as a philanthropist. He's personally donated instruments and founded the Trombone Shorty Foundation to help pass along the New Orleans' brass-band tradition to a new generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARKING LOT SYMPHONY")

TROMBONE SHORTY: (Singing) Don't give a damn no more...

NEARY: So for fans of music from The Big Easy, we're happy to report that Trombone Shorty has a new album coming out this week. It's called "Parking Lot Symphony."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARKING LOT SYMPHONY")

TROMBONE SHORTY: (Singing) In the Treme, many on the street. It's a parking lot symphony in my mind, in my mind.

NEARY: Trombone Shorty joins us from the studios of WWNO in New Orleans, of course. Thanks for being with us.

TROY ANDREWS: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: You know, I was really struck by the R&B sound in that track and on the album. Also, there's some funk. There's some ballads. It's not what people - a lot of people think of as the traditional New Orleans' sound.

ANDREWS: No, no, not at all. But, you know, in my life - my grandfather was Jessie Hill, who's an R&B singer. He did a lot of work with Allen Toussaint and people like that during those times. And I got a big influence from him and also my mom.

Growing up in the house, we didn't really listen to brass-band music. We played it outside in the streets and around our neighborhood. But she actually listened to Al Green and Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles and people like that. Still to this day, she listens to that, so that's where a bunch of that influence come from.

NEARY: Did you ever - growing up, did you ever play in one of those - the bands that people think of as those traditional New Orleans' brass-bands?

ANDREWS: Yeah. That's where I come from. Marching down a street when I was about four years old, my brother, James Andrews, he had one of those bands - James Andrews All Stars (ph). And I actually played with the Newport Brass Band when I was about 12, 13 years old, and that's where I learned all that street funk and was able to be part of the creative process as a young kid, not really understanding the magnitude of what they were doing, but just being a part of the atmosphere.

NEARY: So most of the songs on this album are originals. But you also do a cover of "Here Come The Girls," and that's a song from around 1970 by Allen Toussaint. And it was made famous by Ernie K-Doe, so we want to hear that original version before we hear yours. So let's hear a little excerpt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COME THE GIRLS")

ERNIE K-DOE: (Singing) Look out, blood, let me get further, little closer to the one I love. Anything better than the opposite sex, they must've kept it up above. Here come the girls. Girls, girls, girls, girls. Here come the girls.

NEARY: So that's Ernie K-Doe. Now let's hear your take on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COME THE GIRLS")

TROMBONE SHORTY: (Singing) I can live without coffee. I can live without tea. But I'm livid about the honeybee. I'm not fillet steak, a leave or take. But the girls are part of me. Oh, water. Don't need no lemonade. But to live without girls, can't live without girls like a man with a hole in his head. Here come the girls.

ANDREWS: When I first heard this song, even though it was written before I was born, I felt like it was written for my band and what we we're doing with the horns and the funk and all the New Orleans' rhythms. And I just thought it would be a great tune to cover.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COME THE GIRLS")

TROMBONE SHORTY: (Singing) Freedom of choice, ring that bell. Give all the girls to me. Here come the girls. Girls, girls, girls, girls. Here come the girls.

ANDREWS: I tried to copy a little bit Ernie K-Doe's singing licks, but he was a hell of a singer. And it was hard to do it, but I tried to get as close as I could.

NEARY: Let's listen to another track of yours. This is "Tripped Out Slim."

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY SONG, "TRIPPED OUT SLIM")

NEARY: OK, so here's what's amazing about this. You're playing the trombone, but we also hear you overdub playing tuba, guitar and trumpet on this track. Is there any instrument you don't play?

ANDREWS: I'm working. I'm trying to figure that out yet, you know? I'm trying to figure it out, but we - it was fun. I was able to go in a studio before I introduced the band to the music. I actually went in the studio for about two weeks myself and - just to engineer.

And he set up a bunch of instruments in a circle for me with microphones, and I was able to jump from each one whenever an idea came and keep rolling to build - build some of those tracks. And then I introduced the music to the band, and I wanted them to put their take on it. And of course, all of them can play their instruments better than me. I was just laying down some of the foundation to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY SONG, "TRIPPED OUT SLIM")

NEARY: The tuba has always struck me as - I don't know - maybe the hardest instrument to play. Just, I can't even imagine how you get that sound out of the tuba.

ANDREWS: Yeah. It takes a lot of wind to play it. Very different from trombone - I forgot that for a while until I picked it up.

NEARY: You know, obviously, growing up playing this music was really important to you. How does the future look for this New Orleans' music?

ANDREWS: I think it's going to be OK. It's been around for hundred-something years now before I was even born. And we have new younger musicians that's coming in, even younger than me, that's influenced by different styles of music. They're influenced by hip hop that's on the radio right now.

They're 15 and 16, and when I go out in the street and just listen to them, they're bringing different flavors and different approaches to it. So when I see that and see how excited they are to just be making music, I think the future of the music is in good hands.

NEARY: Troy Andrews, otherwise known as Trombone Shorty. His new album is "Parking Lot Symphony," and he joined us from the studios of WWNO in New Orleans. Thanks so much. It was great talking with you.

ANDREWS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROMBONE SHORTY SONG, "FANFARE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.