NEAL CONAN, host: Trombone Shorty has been hailed as New Orleans' brightest new star in a generation. Troy Andrews was born to a musical family. From the age of four, he honed his chops at jazz funerals and played for change in Jackson Square. He got his moniker from his big brother. And by the time he turned six, Trombone Shorty started to tour in his brother's band.
Now 25, Trombone Shorty has traveled the world, won legions of fans and just closed the 57th annual Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island this past weekend. And as one of several featured bandleaders under the age of 30, he represents a new generation and a new direction in jazz. Trombone Shorty calls his style supafunkrock.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNC")
CONAN: That's a track called "Unc" off the upcoming album "For True." If you play jazz, we want to hear from you. How are younger musicians changing the music? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Trombone Shorty is in the middle of a nationwide tour. He stopped by NPR for a Tiny Desk Concert earlier today and joins us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for hanging in and coming downstairs.
TROMBONE SHORTY: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And what was it like when all - so many of the bandleaders at Newport this year were under 30?
SHORTY: Oh. I mean, it was fine. You know, it's a great - I liked to see Esperanza Spalding. She was wonderful. It felt good, you know, to be around my peers and play in such a legendary festival. It felt good and, you know, and we got to see some of the legendary musicians, went to Marsalis and different people. It was a great atmosphere.
CONAN: Some people regard jazz as almost a mummified form. People your age are beginning to take off the wrappings.
SHORTY: Yeah. I mean, we're just influenced by the music that came before us from our predecessors, and we're just trying to do what we are growing up into. Right now the music has changed. You have pop and hip-hop music that we're very into. And we're just trying to find a way, naturally, to put it into what we know best.
CONAN: I read an interview in which you said that you learned to play all those different forms of music growing up in Treme neighborhood in New Orleans because you never knew who was going to call you for a gig. You had to be able to play all these different forms.
SHORTY: Yeah. Growing up, it was put in - music has put me in different situations. I spent a lot of time with the Neville Brothers and Dr. John and different people. They play different styles of music, and it allowed me to learn different styles. And then once I learned that I should try to approach different styles of music because you never know who's going to call you, I just wanted to be somewhat comfortable on any stage. And whoever called me musically, I just wanted to know a little bit about it so I can be somewhat authentic.
CONAN: Many years ago, I spoke with Eubie Blake, the great ragtime composer and pianist. And he said when he grew up, the greatest musicians regarded in his community were circus musicians because they had to be able to play anything.
SHORTY: Yeah. As - I mean, when you listen to that style of music, circus music, ragtime is very, very hard to do. Even today, it's still hard to play that style of music because you have to be - you have to know how to play anything and be comfortable in it.
CONAN: You not only then learned to play this stuff again from a very early age, but then went to school to study what you had already learned.
SHORTY: Yeah. Yeah. When I went to NOCCA, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, it was a backwards experience for me. The teachers wanted the students, by the time they graduated, to sound like I was playing already, but they wanted me to stay more in the books and learn the fundamentals of it and understand what I was doing as far as theory, writing music, reading music, different things. They just wanted me to be able to speak the language and not always play by ear. So I had to get both of those together and move forward.
CONAN: And that grounding in the academic part of music, how has that changed your approach to it?
Well, it allowed me to understand different styles of music and approach it from an educational standpoint instead of just relying on my ear. Because sometimes, your ear can move - lead you in the wrong direction if you don't have the education behind it. And it just made me more comfortable because I actually knew what I was doing, and I can approach it differently instead of going off of instinct all the time. And to have both of those elements together, it allowed me to be able to play all styles of music and be comfortable.
SHORTY: But I'm very grateful that I had some of the best teachers in the world that just made me play and stay in the books. Like, whenever I wanted to play, they were like, oh, no. You go take this private lesson because we want you to be able to - we don't want nothing weak with you when you're approaching a style of music or whatever it may be. And learning this will give you the tools to approach music in both styles.
CONAN: As you have incorporated different styles of music into your form, I wonder, have you gotten feedback from older musicians who say, you know, wait a minute. There's a certain structure, there's a certain way this has to be played, and you're not doing it.
TROY ANDREWS: Well, some of them like it. Some jazz fans don't like it. But the thing is, I like to look at it as - I didn't grow up during the time that Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis and all those people were playing, so it's not really my responsibility to keep it up what they're doing, because Miles Davis wanted to be much different than Louis Armstrong if you listen to the music. And they were always trying to push the music forward. So, me growing up at this time, being 25 years old, there's a lot of music at my fingertips that I can be influenced by.
BRAD: And just because I play a horn, I don't need to sound or try to capture what was happening before me. I could just respect it and learn from it the way that Miles Davis did with Louis Armstrong,to try to push the music forward. And so, I mean, I get a lot of musicians, older musicians, sometime, that do say that. But, I mean, I'm 25, it's 2011, and music is changing. And the only thing I can do from that time of music is learn it from the CDs and look at it off of videos. So I'm just doing what I'm doing and hopefully in the next 20, 30 years, some kids can take what I'm doing and change it again. If the music doesn't move, then it's dead.
CONAN: We're talking with Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. We'd like to hear from those of you who play jazz. What are the young kids doing to change the music? 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll start with Brad, and Brad's calling us from Baton Rouge.
BRAD: Hi. Thanks so much for taking my call.
BRAD: I play bass in a jazz fusion band. We call it gypsy-jazz fusion. Fusion is kind of this meaningless blanket term that doesn't really refer to any genre, but I just wanted to say that I agree with Trombone Shorty because there are varied - like there are no more sure genres anymore, you know, being these -the kind of music that's being made today, new music. I mean, like Trombone Shorty was saying, you know, music that pushes the envelope, music that moves forward.
It's converging, more and more, from all these different genres. And so I just, you know, they're - I think that they're just very few short - like a lot of jazz cats , a lot of older cats don't like some of the newer stuff, you know, like Trombone was saying.
CONAN: Yeah. Would Django Reinhardt understand what you're playing as gypsy fusion?
BRAD: Yes, sir.
CONAN: Yeah. You think so?
BRAD: Uh, well, it's a lot of things. A lot of members write so we'll have, you know, we'll play a lot of gypsy scales or we'll have very gypsy chord progressions. But, you know, we'll also work in progressive rock, you know, different meters, time changes, you know, and just whatever we can, 'cause you just try to keep it fresh as a musician today. And so some of the older jazz cats, you know, they say it isn't jazz. You can make something jazzy, but some of them just don't even think it's jazz anymore.
CONAN: Brad, thanks very much for the call. Good luck with the group.
BRAD: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we go next to - this is Nick, Nick with us from Owensboro in Kentucky.
NICK: Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call. I love the show. I listen daily.
CONAN: Thank you.
NICK: I just got a quick comment. You were referencing some of the younger musicians on the scene today and how they push the envelope. I don't really agree that the envelope has been pushed. I'm a musician myself, 20 years on now. And I just think it's kind of a revision of the same. And, I mean, a lot of the fusion jazz, even going back to John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra, that, to me, was groundbreaking.
What I'm seeing a lot with the newer jazz, it almost seems like it's just been a slower tempo of the hip-hop field and you throw some horns on it. And - I mean, not to say that it's not good music, but I just don't think it's groundbreaking. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thanks.
CONAN: All right. Troy.
ANDREWS: Well, I mean, see, I get put in the jazz category because I play a horn, and I come from New Orleans. But the people I'm actually influenced by is James Brown and Marvin Gaye and Lenny Kravitz and all those type of people. But, I mean, it's just different people's opinion. Like, I'm not trying to do anything. I'm doing what I do. I'm not sitting down trying to structure it out and say I want to take this type of sound from jazz and make it something like this is where - I'm from New Orleans, so we hear everything. What I'm doing, maybe is not groundbreaking, but I'm not trying to do nothing but be who I am.
SHORTY: And New Orleans is a musical gumbo, so that's what we do. There's no genres in New Orleans, and we just do. I mean, you can go and find Aaron Neville playing with Ellis Marsalis. You can find myself playing with Juvenile or who ever it may be, some rappers, and we just - to us, it's just music. We just like to have fun and play music. That's all it is, just music. Like, we - it's not really about genres or anything, not really about selling records, anything. We just want to have fun and play music.
CONAN: And you talked about that genre, your grandfather worked with Allen Toussaint.
ANDREWS: Yeah, he worked with Allen Toussaint and Ernie K-Doe and Dr. John, different people doing it that time. And I'm very blessed that he was my grandfather and to pass down some of the traditional R&B styles of New Orleans music down to my brother, who passed it onto me.
CONAN: Here's an email from Tracy in Rochester, New York: Hi, Trombone Shorty. I worked at the Rochester International Jazz Fest that you have performed at the last two years. Rochester loves you. As I scan the crowd, I saw some of the young people enjoying you. That made me feel good about the future of jazz. My 12-year-old nephew was about to give up his trombone until he came to your show. So you have inspired.
ANDREWS: Wow. Thank you. Thank you from Rochester. We appreciate that. And, you know, we get it in situations where we got a lot of young kids interested in what we do. And, you know, we have to find a way to reach our peers. And we're doing that naturally because any type or future of jazz, if we don't get the younger musicians or the younger people interested into it, it may die. You never know. But we have a lot of young people coming into our music and to the shows that's jumping up. I might even crowd surf sometimes, just different things. And it's fun for everybody.
CONAN: We're talking with Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get Marilyn(ph) on the line. Marilyn with us from Charlottesville.
MARILYN: Well, hello, Neal. And hello, Troy.
MARILYN: Troy, I've seen you performed numerous times at the New Orleans Jazz Fest since '98. We saw you with Orleans Avenue at the House of Blues. You opened up in Charlottesville for DMB a couple of times and at The Jefferson Theater. And besides your fabulous showmanship, what impressed me most about you was your circular breathing. I was wondering if you could tell us about your circular breathing like, when did you began, and what musicians inspired you, because you've become so good at it. And how long did it take? I think I've heard you sustain that breathing for about five minutes. But how long can you sustain it for?
CONAN: And can you teach it to a radio guy?
ANDREWS: I've learned it from my cousin that plays with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. His name is Revert Andrews. And when I was about 14, I was practicing. I was at my house. And he came up - seeing somebody do it. I couldn't remember. And he taught it to me on the spot. And takes me - it took me about 20 to 30 minutes to get it. And what's strange about it is that he was explaining and trying to teach me how to do it, but he couldn't do it that way. He kept messing it up. But I caught the concept, and I've been trying to get better at it every day.
But the longest I've done it, when I was about 16, maybe 23 minutes. But I haven't tried to do that again. And I haven't attempted that again because the blood circulation can get cut off. But if I playing the saxophone, you could do it however long you wanted to do it because the reeds that's on your teeth. But it's just one of those things. It's hard to do. It's very physical. And it's a fun thing.
CONAN: Just speaking with that, here's an email we have from Makita(ph) in Toronto in Canada: How do you double up on trumpet so easily without ruining your chops. I find it real feel scary doing that because it instantly hard to access my high range on trumpet and I can't access my low range on trombone. It feels pretty bad switching back and forth.
ANDREWS: It does feel pretty bad. It's hard to do. I've been doing it for years now, since I was maybe 10, 12 years old. So I've just started really early to where my lips acclimated to it and it doesn't bother as much. Sometimes on certain nights, if you play as hard as we do, you can feel it. But I've been doing it so long that is it's kind of natural to me. But the same thing that you're asking - whenever I try to switch to the tuba, that's what happens to me. I can't even put my lips on the trumpet or the trombone. I have to stay with the tuba, but I feel that with tuba more than a trombone and trumpet.
CONAN: And the circular breathing Marilyn was talking about, you must have to do some interesting things with your diaphragm as well as with your lip.
ANDREWS: Yeah. I mean, you'd have to make sure you can breathe well, make sure that your lungs are powerful. And it's just a lot of work.
CONAN: Trombone Shorty, thanks very much for being with us today, and good luck with the new album.
ANDREWS: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: If you'd like to listen to Trombone Shorty live performance from this last weekends' Newport Jazz Festival, you can go to npr.org and click on music. Tomorrow, we'll head into rural America where populations are dwindling, airports are closing and the United States Postal Services trying to close many thousands of post offices. Join us for that. Finally, earlier today, Trombone Shorty and his band played a Tiny Desk Concert. You'll be able to watch their entire performance around the time. Their new album "For True" is released September 13th. We'll go out with a preview of their Tiny Desk Concert. This song is called "Lagniappe (unintelligible)".
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.