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Get It While It’s Hot

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Catch the Grammy Award nominees at the Cistern Yard on June 9 and 10. Photographs by Jane Rickey, courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA 2011

June 1, 2011

Get It While It’s Hot
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue will serve up a “supafunkrock” gumbo for Spoleto’s Wells Fargo Jazz series

written by Harriet McLeod

New Orleans prodigy Troy Andrews, a.k.a. Trombone Shorty, will blow away summer audiences this year in France, Switzerland, England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. But first he’ll add high-octane heat to two steamy Charleston nights at the Cistern Yard during Spoleto Festival USA.

Andrews, 25, is a native son of New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood (pronounced Tre-MAY). The oldest black neighborhood in the U.S., Treme is a crucible for musicians and the subject of the wildly popular HBO series of the same name, in which “Shorty” has made repeated appearances.

Born to a musical family (his grandfather is singer-songwriter Jessie Hill, two siblings are musicians, and 20 cousins also play), Andrews first hoisted a trombone at age four. “At the time it was one of the instruments in the house that actually worked,” he says. “It kind of reminded me of that whistle thing that people blow at birthday parties. I just fell in love with it.”

By age six, he was playing funerals, second lines, and parties with his trumpeter brother James. At 12, he’d hired his own brass band and was a fixture in New Orleans’ Jackson Square. The horn was longer than he was tall, hence the nickname that stuck. In early 2004, Andrews formed the band Orleans Avenue with five other instrumental virtuosos, and when they aren’t touring or recording, he’s performing with friend and mentor Lenny Kravitz.

 Shortly after wrapping up two weeks of New Orleans Jazz Fest performances, Andrews answers his home phone humming. “I was just writin’ some lyrics I had in my head,” he says. “It’s nothin’ at the moment, but I’ll have it in about 15 minutes.” Andrews, who studied at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, is fluent on a dozen instruments, many of which help create the musical gumbo that Orleans Avenue serves up on its latest album, Backatown. Andrews calls their stew of harmonic brass, high-energy jazz, heavy funk, and soul groove “supafunkrock.”

And since New Orleans musicians are most informed by listening to each other, he says they practice in the dark. “We allow each one of us to bring in our own personality. My bass player is heavily influenced by hip-hop. My guitarist, he’s a jazz-rock guy. My drummer listens to Garth Brooks and Nine Inch Nails. My baritone saxophonist, he listens to Serbian music. I listen to everything.”

Indeed, a Balkans brass band riff winds through “Suburbia,” one of the original tunes on Backatown, a term older New Orleanians use for the Third Ward, where Louis Armstrong grew up. “To the youngest people, backatown means the next neighborhood over,” Andrews says. “If I’m in the Treme and I say ‘meet me in backatown,’ that’s just the next neighborhood over to me.” The tune “Hurricane” has alarmist horns in police alert mode, panting saxophones, and some yelling, evoking Hurricane Katrina panic. The only cover, “On Your Way Down,” is a reinterpretation of the hit by New Orleans’ brilliant pianist and composer Allen Toussaint. “Neph” pays tribute to the ties that bind in the Crescent City.

“It’s short for nephew,” Andrews explains. “Everybody in New Orleans is related some type a way, maybe not by blood but by love, and whenever you see like a older guy, he comes up to you at the store and try to get you to buy him a beer, he’ll say ‘Hey, Neph.’ We don’t really know him, but we say, ‘Here you go, Unc.’”  
Andrews and Orleans Avenue will spread New Orleans love and harmony next Thursday and Friday nights. Be prepared to sweat.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Spoleto Festival USA’s Wells Fargo Jazz Series
June 9 & 10 at 9 p.m.
College of Charleston Cistern Yard
For more information or to purchase tickets, call (843) 579-3100 or click here.

“Conversations With” host Martha Teichner interviews Trombone Shorty at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture on Friday, June 10 at 5 p.m. Admission is free.

For more local events, click here.