Trombone Shorty happy to toot horns
Internationally acclaimed New Orleans dynamo Trombone Shorty will head a rollicking, 12-piece band when he performs Sunday at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at San Diego State University. Given how many roles he plays, though, a more accurate tally of his band members would total 16 - and he accounts for four of them.
As his stage name suggests, trombone is the main instrument for the man born Troy Andrews, whose past collaborators include Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Foo Fighters, Wynton Marsalis, Lenny Kravitz and Mystikal.
Andrews’ stage name stems from the fact his instrument was twice as large as he was when the then-4-year-old Trombone Shorty sat in with rock pioneer Bo Diddley at the 1990 edition of Jazz Fest, as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is more commonly called by locals.
But Andrews now spends nearly as much time on stage blowing his trumpet as his trombone. When not playing his horns, he’s singing or laying down a snappy groove on the drums.
“Personally, I don’t think I’m good on anything,” said Andrews, 32, who also plays tuba, piano, guitar, organ and vibraphone, but not in concert.
“My teachers in New Orleans always made us practice, practice, practice! They said: ‘You’ll never know everything, but you’ll get better by trying to get better.’ So I’m chasing it, just as a tool to continue to learn and never be complacent.”
What, exactly, does his practice regimen entail?
“Sometimes, I find myself practicing on the piano, because we play so many shows that I try to give my lips a chance to take a break,” he replied. “So I’ll practice on piano and then, after a few days, I’ll go to trombone and trumpet for 30 minutes apiece to transfer the information I learned on piano to the horns, just to keep myself mentally sharp.”
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, with St. Paul & The Broken Bones
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, SDSU
Andrews heads the nonprofit Trombone Shorty Foundation & Music Academy in his hometown.
“When I’m not on the road, I help as much as I can,” he said, speaking from the Salt Lake City airport.
“I give private lessons at the academy and teach other things. And I help them learn about the business side of music; I had to learn that on my own - or ask Cyril Neville or Dr. John - people who made it out of New Orleans. I want to provide students with the music business side, so that when they have to deal with it, it’s not a complete shock.”
As an aspiring young performer in the Big Easy, Andrews could simply walk up to such local legends as Danny Barker and Ellis Marsalis - the patriarch of the famed Marsalis jazz clan - and pick their brains for invaluable musical information.
It was a unique advantage, one he didn’t come to fully appreciate until years later.
“Yeah, well, you know, growing up in New Orleans, I didn’t realize that didn’t happen everywhere else in the world,” Andrews said. “I didn’t realize until later in life that you couldn’t go up to legendary musicians in other cities and ask them to teach you things. I thought that happened everywhere!
“So it was a great opportunity and privilege to have that in New Orleans. That’s the way it’s been in our scene in New Orleans since way before I was born. And, now, I just happen to be part of that.”
If Andrews’ memory is correct, he joined the Musicians Union in New Orleans when he was all of 10.
But he began touring professionally three years earlier, when he joined the band led by his brother, trumpeter James Andrews. Together, they would do tours of Europe each summer. The younger Andrews was a human sponge, soaking up everything he encountered with youthful zeal.
“The first time I can remember performing with my brother, at Jazz Fest when I was 4, was the same day I ended up on stage with Bo Diddley,” recalled Andrews, whose grandfather, Jessie Hill, sang and recorded the 1960 New Orleans classic, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.”
“After I played with my brother, my mom was taking me to get some ice cream and I kept blowing this really loud note on my trombone. My mom said Bo Diddley was asking the audience at his stage: ‘Who is that?’ The next thing that happened, my mom told me, is the people in the audience took me from her, raised me up and passed me to the stage.
“Bo put me next to him and he let me take a little solo. He was playing a song and I was making noise! I was only 4 so I can’t tell you what it sounded like. But I could play that loud note!”
What note was it?
“Probably a B-flat, or something like that in first position,” he replied. “Because my lips were so small at that age that I had to play my trombone with a trumpet mouth piece. So it sounded like an elephant!”
Andrews’ current tour with Orleans Avenue follows the April release of his new Blue Note Records album, “Parking Lot Symphony,” which mixes original songs with classics by The Meters and the late Allen Toussaint.
His 12-piece touring band is the largest he’s led, with two drummers, two guitarists, two backing singers, a three-piece brass section, and more.
“We feed off each other on stage and sometimes we create as we go along,” Andrew said.
“We’re bringing a big New Orleans party to San Diego. It’s going to be like a big Mardi Gras dance!”