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Trombone Shorty's musical roots deep in New Orleans

Published June 6, 2013 2:33 pm

Interview • Prolific innovator brings supafunkrock to Red Butte Garden.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When he was in grade school, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews was already playing around his hometown of New Orleans and touring with his older brother James Andrews, Dr. John and anyone else who recognized Andrews, now 27, was gifted.

Over the past eight or nine years, after graduating from high school and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Andrews and his band have been constantly in the studio or on the road perfecting what he calls "Supafunkrock," a blend of funk, soul, rock, blues, jazz and a jambalaya of other styles and sounds.

His Grammy-caliber music has earned him gigs at the White House and Carnegie Hall, playing with or alongside everyone from Buddy Guy, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and Mick Jagger to Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and Harry Connick Jr.

Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue, are returning to Red Butte Garden on Sunday, June 9, to headline a show with Big Head Todd and the Monsters. He recently spoke by phone while on a tour stop in St. Louis about his musical roots and the art and discipline of creating music.

What has your year been like?

It's been pretty busy so far. I've been taking a little time out to do the [new] record. I've spent a lot of time in California laying down some of the tracks. Then I'll stop for a minute and go on tour. I've been to Australia this year already for a couple of weeks. We went to Byron Bay [Blues Festival], Melbourne, a few different spots.

Will we hear any songs off the new album during your Utah concert?

I'm not sure we'll hear any songs off the new album, but we do have some new things that we play live that's not on the record. I'm still learning the album. I'm still recording and writing even as we speak. So, we don't have much time at this moment to really play — we might be able to pull off an instrumental or something from the new album. We don't have those intricate arrangements down yet. We haven't had a chance to really learn the music because we've been so busy.

Is it still Supafunkrock?

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We definitely got that in there.

How much of what we see live is written down and how much is improvisation?

Wow, I've never thought about it. We all know the songs that we play, and in the middle of it something may happen that we never … that's improvised. My band can tell you, I'll change the arrangement in the middle of the song and no one would know it. Like, I might play a riff, and if I stay there for a couple of minutes or a couple of bars the band knows what to do. … Our solos are 100 percent improvised — they're never the same. And sometimes my guitar player or myself, we might play a different type of passage on our instruments that'll change the sound of the song … and the rest of the band will follow that. It's probably about 80 percent [written music]. We'll stick to the script, but we still leave a large percentage to go wherever we want to.

Who were you listening to growing up; how did that influence you?

I started playing by ear at 4 years old with my brother James Andrews — he's a trumpet player. I have a lot of family members who are brass players. They play with the Rebirth Brass Band. Some of them played with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. … My brother James [who is 44], I actually played with his band. He had his band, James Andrews [& the Crescent City] Allstars, and he was also a member of the New Birth Brass Band. Wherever he went, that's where he took me. Everything I learned basically came from him and me wanting to be like him. As far as listening to a lot of people, we had the Rebirth Brass Band and [trumpter] Kermit Ruffins. All these people lived in my same neighborhood, people around the corner or down the street from us. So, it was a real musical neighborhood.

What did you learn at NOCCA?

When I went to NOCCA, that's where I got all my fundamentals, reading music, writing music, everything that had to deal with theory for four years. [NOCCA] told me that I could play, they just wanted me to learn on paper and be able to speak everything that I was playing and be able to see it. So my learning experience was backward. Most of the kids there, they wanted them to sound the way I sounded by the time they finished school, but they wanted me to know and have the theoretical part in my head and be able to be a musician to where we could jump onstage with anyone and play and understand what's going on instead of playing by ear. So, they always had me in the books.

Was that a difficult process?

No. I was always interested in learning. And I wanted to get better. There were things I wanted to play that I was hearing even as a kid that I knew at a certain age, I was like "This is going to take some practice. I'm not going to be able to play that by ear." My brother told me I needed to go [to NOCCA] and become interested in schooling and the education part of it. It was difficult because … I had to learn everything I was able to play already, but I didn't have any idea what it was. … It really helped me as a musician, to be able to do what I'm doing.

Where does New Orleans fit in as far as being an incubator for up-and-coming musicians?

The only way to explain New Orleans and our musical culture is that it's a musical gumbo. You have a lot of musicians who play together, and you may have some musicians who are stronger at the New Orleans R&B side of music, you may have some who are stronger at the funk side, you may have stronger at blues, whatever it may be. And all of us get together in some type of way, because there's going to betimes where we all play together. If you're strong at one thing and playing with different musicians, I think that's what helps the music sound the way it does. Even in New Orleans where we play different styles of music, we're all under this thing that's called New Orleans music – it's just a gumbo, everything at once. —

'Supafunkrock' at Red Butte

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue headline a show with Big Head Todd and the Monsters

When • Sunday, June 9, 7 p.m.

Where • Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $43, at http://redbuttegarden.org