Troy Andrews has long been a hero on home turf. Ever since earning the nickname and eventually professional alias of Trombone Shorty, he has combined the street sounds and inspirations of his native New Orleans with a library of pop, soul, funk and hip-hop influences.
But Andrews is more than aware that outside of Crescent City, audiences may be less in tune to his mission. Then again, Andrews – who is as expressive and commanding on trumpet as he is trombone – has a habit of making friends quickly. If you were roaming downtown Lexington during celebrations for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, you experienced the type of party frenzy Andrews can kick up among audiences that are unaware of what a performance spirit Trombone Shorty can be.
“I always have it in my mind that people don’t know who I am, even if we come to a place where we sell out,” Andrews said. “In my mind, I’m thinking this is their first time hearing us play. So I intend to play to the best of my ability just put it out there with 100 percent heart and soul.”
While Trombone Shorty is totally a creation of New Orleans, Andrews’ own musical scope remains stylistically broad. His newest album, “Parking Lot Symphony,” emphasizes such reach. It opens and closes with a double dose of spiritual blues by way of the two part “Laveau Dirge.” But in between, he explores multi-generational funk by way of a Latin-tinged take on “It Ain’t No Use,” a tune by another famed New Orleans musical institution, The Meters.
Similarly, he accents Allen Toussaint’s “Here Come the Girls” with a percussive street march spirit. There are loads of outside innovators at work, as well, including producer Chris Seefried of Fitz and the Tantrums fame along with compositional and performance aid from members of Edward Sharpe and the Musical Zeros and Better Than Ezra.
“The broad spectrum of my music comes from a direct influence of being in the city of New Orleans,” Andrews said. “When you have all the magic in one city, there are no boundaries. Ask somebody from New Orleans how music sounds, they’ll say it sounds the way it does because it covers a wide array of things. For me, it’s just about going through life, being 32 and listening to hip hop music and rock music and gospel music from outside of the city. But when all of that comes in, I’m like a sponge.”
Perhaps unintentionally, though, Andrews’ roots were placed on full display for his traditional Sunday night set at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, long known to patrons as simply Jazz Fest. Andrews inherited the closing spot upon the retirement in 2012 of the city’s foremost family band, the Neville Brothers. But this year, the occasion held considerably more weight with the death of saxophonist Charles Neville less than two weeks earlier.
“I’ve been playing with the Neville family since I was about 10 or 12 years old, so losing Uncle Charles was a hell of blow to us,” Andrews said. “Every year at Jazz Fest, at the exact spot where I’ve been closing out, the Neville Brothers invited me to play with them.
“This year, when we lost Charles, I thought it would be a great thing to have some of his family come up and play (vocalist Cyril Neville and two Neville nephews, Ian and Ivan, joined Andrews for the tribute). To be able to invite them back on the stage they primed me for was a beautiful experience. I think we sent Charles off right.”
Whether he is thrilling home base audiences, like the ones as Jazz Fest, or making new friends around the country, as he has in Lexington, the secret to the drive of Trombone Shorty – perhaps even more than the stylistic diversity – is a simple love for the art of performance.
“The answer to that is very simple. I love to play music and I love to put smiles on people’ faces. I don’t think about it. I don’t have to do a ritual or anything. I’ve been playing since I was 4, so at the end of the day, it’s all about love. It’s about music that brings joy from the stage wherever we are.
“Sometimes at soundcheck, we’ll play for four or five hours forgetting that we actually have a show that night. That’s how much we love music.”