Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews craves his hometown New Orleans when away he’s on tour. Luckily for the rest of the world, he brings the city’s soul with him.
With his longtime band, Orleans Avenue – guitarist Pete Murano, bassist Mike Ballard and drummer Joey Peebles – Andrews takes over Ace of Spades on Sunday. The multi-instrumentalist dubs his style “SupaFunkRock,” a high-energy hybrid of funky jazz and rhythm and blues. With heavy brass action led by Andrews on the trombone and trumpet, it sounds like New Orleans.
“Whenever I’m in Paris, London, Tokyo or wherever we may be, for those two hours playing on stage, I feel like I’m home,” Andrews said.
In September, the 27-year-old released his third album. “Say That To Say This” was produced by Grammy-nominated producer Raphael Saadiq (D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, John Legend) and has reached the No. 2 spot on Billboard’s Jazz Chart. Andrews’ previous two releases, “Backatown” in 2010 and “For True” in 2011, also experienced success, spending weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. “Backatown” garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
“Say That To Say This,” named after a New Orleans expression that means “to make a long story short,” is his most soulful yet, likely because of Saadiq’s R&B influence. The record also notably includes a Meters cover, “Be My Lady,” featuring the Meters themselves. The reunion marks the first time New Orleans’ pioneering funk band has recorded together since 1977.
Andrews has called his sound a “musical gumbo,” an audible, multicultural melting pot and a riff off the classic New Orleans dish.
“The more music we hear from different places and the more people we play with, the more influences we incorporate,” he said.
He’s collaborated with a slew of musicians with varying styles, such as the Zac Brown Band, Mos Def, My Morning Jacket, Kid Rock and Allen Toussaint. And he once shared a stage at the White House with Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Booker T. Jones and other legends. Playing for President Barack Obama and his family remains the most thrilling experience of his career.
“It’s going to take a miracle to top that,” he said.
Other recent honors include the prestigious closing slot at the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a privilege usually reserved for The Neville Brothers, and Andrews’ face on the festival’s commemorative envelope, a distinction once held by icons such as Louis Armstrong. New Orleans seems to be as proud of Andrews as Andrews is proud of New Orleans.
“It’s like a country inside a country,” he said. “We have our own food, our own language, our own things that only New Orleans people understand.”
It’s a place where there’s music in the air 24 hours a day. and where eight years after Hurricane Katrina, the city is still rebuilding itself. New businesses are opening, and Andrews sees significant progress.
“Every time I go back, it’s like a new city, or something new is happening, and I have to catch up,” he said.
Andrews is doing his part to strengthen New Orleans. It started in 2011 with his “Horns for Schools” program. “I go all over the globe,” he said. “But I wanted to do a tour in my own city, in all the schools.”
So he hopped from school to school, delivering his own line of new brass instruments. “I had no idea the kids even knew of me or my music, and that really inspired me,” he said.
He expanded the program into an official nonprofit, the Trombone Shorty Foundation. He partnered up with Tulane University to launch a free music academy in January, targeting underserved, talented high school students. And with that program’s success, the foundation won a grant this fall to start a music business institute, so those young musicians can be ready for the worlds of production and marketing as well.
Andrews stresses discipline and focus, and tells his students that having those characteristics will help them regardless of whether they pursue a musical career. Andrews certainly takes his own teachings to heart – he’s determined to keep evolving his sound, to keep improving as a performer and to keep pushing his limits.
“I just wanted to give these kids a positive role model and let them know that they can go far,” he said.
“I want to see New Orleans be brighter.”