Trombone Shorty profile - Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011
- Miles Fielder
- 8 July 2011
This article is from 2011
Youthful jazz pioneer and composer set for Edinburgh date
The youthful jazz pioneer and composer has notched up tours with Lenny Kravitz and cameo appearances in an HBO series.
'Oooooh! Trombone Shorty! My man!' This is how the 25-year-old jazz musician from New Orleans is greeted by fellow (and fictitious) horn player Antoine Batiste in David Simon's new HBO television show, Treme. Simon's follow-up to his hard-hitting cop show The Wire (Wendell Pierce aka Detective Bunk from the earlier series plays Batiste) deals with how the residents of the city's titular neighbourhood – the oldest black community in America and a historically rich source of musical talent – pull their lives back together in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Given Trombone Shorty (real name Troy Andrews) grew up in Treme (pronounced 'tre-MAY') and has become one of the most exciting talents of the new generation of jazz musicians to come out of the city since the levees broke, it's wholly appropriate that Simon should have cast him to play himself in four episodes of the show.
Trombone Shorty represents both the traditional and pioneering musical spirit of New Orleans. His music, made with six-piece Orleans Avenue since 2009, mixes jazz improvisation with hip hop, funk and R&B, while Shorty's playing style has been likened to both soul (Marvin Gaye is a big influence) and rock (he has covered AC/DC tracks). Shorty's also got music in his blood. He's the grandson of old-school rhythm and blues singer Jessie Hill, who performed with Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny and Cher among others. And having grown up in Treme, he was playing trumpet aged three and trombone a year later (Troy's elder brother James gave him his nickname when he spotted him playing in a brass band parade with an instrument that was twice his size). By the age of six, Shorty had jammed with the legendary Bo Diddley, and during his teens he played in his brother's band and then on his own on street corners, where he picked up as much as $400 on a good day.
So Shorty was already an experienced player by the time his big break came at the age of 20, when Lenny Kravitz signed him up to his backing band and took the young musician on a tour around the world. The experience taught him a lot about performing, to big crowds in particular. During a break in touring, Katrina hit New Orleans, and Shorty went home to help family and friends. Later, he contributed to the benefit album Sing Me Back Home, and played with U2 and Green Day at the symbolic re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome. In the five years since, Shorty has collaborated with musicians as diverse as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, Dr John and Mos Def.
It's arguable, however (and not least by Shorty himself), that the trombone player's sound really came together with the formation of Orleans Avenue and, more particularly, with the release of their 2010 album, Backatown (the title is a local term for the part of New Orleans Shorty grew up in). Backatown, which went straight to the number one spot on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart and stayed there for ten weeks, features original compositions by Shorty, who also sings on the record. It's a melting pot of the various aforementioned musical styles that do complement one another (in recognition of their eclecticism the band dubbed their studio the Gumbo Room after the famous Cajun stew) and are held together by some pretty intense playing and, of course, that big horn upfront.
Shorty began a six-month world tour promoting Backatown in June. By the time he reaches Scotland he'll have played all over Europe. After his appearance at Edinburgh's Jazz and Blues Festival he heads home for the American leg of this massive tour, which takes him all the way into 2012. One can't help but wonder what other musical influences Trombone Shorty will pick up while working his way back to New Orleans.
Queen's Hall, Clerk Street, 0131 473 2000, 24 Jul, 8pm, £16–£20.