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Trombone Shorty Stays True to New Orleans

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Trombone Shorty Stays True to New Orleans

Trombone Shorty Stays True to New Orleans

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

While much of the country is focused on Super Tuesday, in New Orleans, it's Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras - the day of parades, parties and, of course, music.

Joel Rose has a profile of one of the city's most promising young horn players. His name is Troy Andrews. People call him Trombone Shorty.

JOEL ROSE: The Treme is a neighborhood just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter, yet only a few tourists venture into what one critic calls the most musical neighborhood in America's most musical city.

Mr. TROY ANDREWS (Horn Player): This place on this corner right here is the shop. This was a jam session spot. Like if I'm not mistaken, stories I've heard, Dizzy Gillespie came to play with New Orleans musician.

ROSE: Troy Andrews grew up in the Treme. His grandfather was Jessie Hill, who wrote the R&B hit "Ooh Poo Pah Doo." His cousin Herlin Riley plays drums for Wynton Marsalis. He also has cousins in the Rebirth Brass Band, one of the top bands in New Orleans today.

Andrews got his start playing in parades and for the tourists a few blocks away on Bourbon Street.

Mr. T. ANDREWS: I remember playing a bunch of parades and being around people. I remember I couldn't really go past third position with my arms, so I had to, like use my foot.

ROSE: He was 6 years old and not big enough to make the trombone do what he can today. But even then, he wasn't bad, according to his older brother, trumpeter and band leader James Andrews III.

Mr. JAMES ANDREWS III (Trumpeter, Band Leader): He always can play in tune. And he always had that rhythm.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Today, Trombone Shorty's nickname is pretty much obsolete. He's 22 years old and almost 6 feet tall. He plays more than just the trombone, he's also a respected trumpeter. And his street cred extends beyond New Orleans. Last month, he made his debut at jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. LARRY BLUMENFELD (Writer, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice): Part of the appeal of Trombone Shorty when he plays either of the horns he plays is the raw, physical power and beauty of the sounds he creates.

ROSE: Larry Blumenfeld writes about music for the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice.

Mr. BLUMENFELD: His playing has an edge to it, the kind of edge that from Louis Armstrong up through Dizzy Gillespie and beyond, gains an audience's ear right away.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

ROSE: And like the best musicians in New Orleans, Troy Andrews moves easily between jazz, R&B and rock.

(Soundbite of song "Whole Lotta Lovin")

Mr. LENNY KRAVITZ (Musician): (Singing) I got a whole lot of uh uh to do. Whole lot of uh uh to do. And I'm so glad to see you.

Trombone Shorty.

(Soundbite of trombone)

ROSE: Andrews played in Lenny Kravitz's band for a year and a half. That experience brought him more name recognition and more money. Today, he lives in the French Quarter, but he regularly makes the trip across Rampart Street to the Treme - a point that's not lost on the people in the neighborhood. Arthur Town Taker Landry operates T.T.'s Shoeshine Stand at the corner of Claiborne and Dumaine.

Mr. ARTHUR TOWN TAKER LANDRY (T.T.'s Shoeshine Stand): You got some people, when they get like that up there making a dollar, they forget about where they come from, but not him. He always returns to where he comes from.

ROSE: Rent in the Treme has gone up sharply since Hurricane Katrina. And this shoeshine stand in the shadow of the I-10 overpass has become a gathering place for men who don't have anywhere else to be. One of them is Troy Andrews' father. James Andrews II goes by the nickname Big 12 because of his fondness for gambling. He remembers hearing Troy trying to play the tuba before he could even walk.

Mr. JAMES ANDREWS II (Troy Andrews' Father): He was a little bitty boy. And we had all the instruments in the house. And he crawls in the tuba, put his mouth to the mouthpiece and made a big, old sound out of it. And everybody thought, that was - oh, that's something.

ROSE: Big 12 wasn't always around when his son is growing up. But Troy Andrews says the whole neighborhood helped raise him.

Mr. T. ANDREWS: Even if they were doing something wrong, everybody in the neighborhood around, in the Treme neighborhood, to me and other kids, everybody was mother and father around here. So we couldn't get away with nothing bad.

ROSE: Andrews lived in the Treme until he was 10. That's when one of his older brothers was shot and killed, and his mother suffered an emotional breakdown. Andrews went to live with the woman who was already managing his older brother James. She got him enrolled in the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the same high school that helped foster the talents of the Marsalis kids. She also chaperoned him on gigs. Troy Andrews says some of his friends from the neighborhood haven't been as lucky.

Mr. T. ANDREWS: My friends that I grew up with, all of them are either on drugs or they selling drug.

ROSE: It's not just his friends who are struggling. Many of Troy Andrews' cousins are also talented musicians. Maybe none more gifted than Glen David Andrews, a vocalist and trumpet player.

(Soundbite of song "Knock With Me, Rock With Me")

Mr. GLEN DAVID ANDREWS (Vocalist, Trumpet Player): (Singing) Wipe your weary eyes, mama don't cry.

GLEN DAVID ANDREWS AND THE LAZY SIX (Group): (Singing) Mama don't cry.

Mr. G. ANDREWS: (Singing) Living in the sixth, living do or die.

GLEN DAVID ANDREWS AND THE LAZY SIX (Group): (Singing) Mama don't cry.

Mr. G. ANDREWS: (Singing) Midnight drugs and prostitution, people will die.

GLEN DAVID ANDREWS AND THE LAZY SIX (Group): (Singing) Mama don't cry.

Mr. G. ANDREWS: (Singing) They say they're certain there's no cure for AIDS, that's a lie.

GLEN DAVID ANDREWS AND THE LAZY SIX (Group): (Singing) Mama don't cry.

Mr. G. ANDREWS: (Singing) Ten years from now, where will I be?

GLEN DAVID ANDREWS AND THE LAZY SIX (Group): (Singing) Mama don't cry.

ROSE: But talent doesn't always translate into success in New Orleans, where drugs and alcohol are always around at parades and clubs. Before his weekly gig at Rock 'n' Bowl in New Orleans, Glen David Andrews made it clear he didn't want to talk.

Mr. G. ANDREWS: (Censored by network) (unintelligible).

ROSE: While many of his cousins play traditional New Orleans brass band music, Troy Andrews is focusing these days on Orleans Avenue, the jazz-funk band he started in high school.

(Soundbite of music)

ORLEANS AVENUE (Group): (Singing) We're going to turn it out. We're going to jump and shout. And then you're going to know what it's all about.

Mr. T. ANDREWS: I'm flipping the game with this one, you know, because I'm the lead singer of this band, and I want to reach a mass audience.

ROSE: The question is whether he'll have to leave New Orleans to reach a broader audience. Bob French is a veteran drummer who hired Troy Andrews back when the name Trombone Shorty still applied.

Mr. BOB FRENCH (Veteran Drummer): Tell me somebody that lives in New Orleans who's a major star besides Fats Domino - nobody. He's going to have to leave. Wynton left, Branford left, Dr. John left. They'd come back; they love this city. But they can't live here.

ROSE: But Troy Andrews insists he wants to live here, at least when he's not on the road. He says the city's problems and temptations are not going to get in his way.

Mr. T. ANDREWS: I've had a strong willpower to want to become one of the best and go down in history at what I want to do. And I'm not going to let nothing, nothing stop me from going to my dream.

ROSE: If he succeeds, Troy Andrews will have a city full of proud parents.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

(Soundbite of music)

ORLEANS AVENUE (Group): (Singing) …make you jump your feet. Everybody do it like me, left, right. Show me what you're working with. We're going to take it to the streets. We're going to make you stomp your feet. Everybody do it like me, left, right. Show me what you (unintelligible). We're going to take you to the streets. Come on. Come on. Come on.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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