Despite being only 24, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has played professionally for 20 years. As a longtime member of Lenny Kravitz’s band and a frequent Galactic collaborator, the trombonist has packed rooms around the world and performed on some of the festival circuit’s biggest stages. Now, Trombone Shorty is steeping out under his own name with his band Orleans Avenue, playing a mix of funk, jazz, hip hop, rock, jam and brass music he describes as Supafunkrock. The group recently entered the studio with Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman to complete its first album, Backatown, and has spent the past six months converting new fans a festivals ranging from Jam Cruise to Bonnaroo. After a successful season playing himself in the HBO series Treme, Trombone Shorty catches up with Jambands.com about his recent success, goals for Orleans Avenue and how he ended up in the studio with members of U2 and Green Day.
Despite being only 24 you have been gigging out for over 20 years. When did you start playing professionally?
I have a bunch of family members that played in almost every brass band in the city and my brother James Andrews had a band. They used to practice at my mom’s house and would leave a bunch of instruments around and those would be my toys. I would go climb inside of a saxophone or tuba and the trombone. I think at the time the trombone was the only instrument that was actually working, and I was able to find some notes on it. My mom and my brother let me stick with it so I started playing. It was taller than I was which is how I got the name. By the time I was 7 years old my brother felt comfortable enough to add me as a part of his band and took me around the world. I played different festivals, and I got paid for it. He trusted me enough to grow and learn from him. And he had me side by side with him and that’s when I started playing professionally.
What was his band called?
The name of his band was James Andrews’ All Star Brass Band. He still plays sometimes around town. He’ll do a bunch of private things but he switched the band up from a brass band to more of a stage band in the last couple years. I still jam out with him sometimes.
Before you started playing under your own name you were best known as one of Lenny Kravitz’s sidemen. Lenny also plays on your solo album. How did that relationship develop?
We have a mutual friend named Sidney Torres and Lenny called him to ask if he knew any New Orleans horn players. I think I was 18 or 19 years old at the time. Lenny got my name from Sidney and called me up. He said, “How soon can you get out here?” and he flew me out like two hours after the phone call. I went out to Miami and I played for him. I thought I was just doing a couple of gigs, I didn’t know that I was going to join the band. I had to learn 20 years of material overnight. It was a great experience because we had to learn things just like they are on the record. Being from New Orleans and being heavily influenced by improvisation, I never really tackled things that way. So just being able to focus on one part and get it exactly right was a great mind-blowing experience for me. And I brought that experience back to my band and everything took off from there.
When did you first go out under your own name and perform?
When I was with my brother we all used to play in Jackson Square, I was the youngest person in his band and, by the time I was ten, I had my own band. We did the things I had learned with my brother. I put together a group of young musicians and I had Trombone Shorty’s Brass Band in Jackson Square. We used to play for tips in the street. Over time I got a bunch of A-list musicians and older musicians to play with me because I was getting a bunch of gigs by myself, doing different things—different conventions and the like. I started thinking that I should develop some younger cats and start writing my own music so I put together Orleans Avenue and we’ve been playing since.
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