Interview - Trombone Shorty: Funk From 'Backatown' New Orleans The young multi-instrumentalist Troy Andrews has toured the world playing music. But he remains loyal to his roots in his old New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. On his new album, he works from the long history of Crescent City R&B.
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Trombone Shorty: 'Backatown' New Orleans Funk

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Trombone Shorty: 'Backatown' New Orleans Funk

Trombone Shorty: 'Backatown' New Orleans Funk

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(Soundbite of song, "In the 6th")


Music will be your passport to see the world. That's what Troy Andrews heard growing up in the Treme section of New Orleans, along with the big brass sounds coming from the homes, churches and streets around the 6th Ward. A very young Troy Andrews quickly learned the trumpet and trombone and started to play at jazz funerals.

Troy's horn was taller than he was. So his big brother James started calling him Trombone Shorty. The nickname stuck, as has Trombone Shorty's fierce loyalty to the neighborhood.

He's playing with his band, Orleans Avenue at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival today and he has a new CD, "Backatown" on the Verve Forecast label. Troy Andrews joins us from member station WWNO in New Orleans. Welcome to the program. It's a treat to talk to you.

Mr. TROY ANDREWS (Musician): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: There's a lot of songs on this CD named in honor of New Orleans' neighborhoods and culture, the one we're hearing now, "In the 6th." There's, like, "Hurricane Season" and "Backatown." You were born and bred in New Orleans, playing by the time you were four. Was there ever any doubt about you being a musician?

Mr. ANDREWS: No, I think as soon as I was born, my mom said I was humming "When the Saints Go Marching In" or something like that. You know, it was in the family and in that neighborhood. I think everybody in the neighborhood has some type of musical influence, even if they don't play instruments or anything. It's the way they talk to you, the way they say your name is all musical.

(Soundbite of song, "In the 6th")

HANSEN: Yeah, so it was natural that you would pick it up. And did you do any studying music?

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah, actually, I started off playing by ear and being around a bunch of musicians playing in the streets in the different parades. And then I got accepted to go to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, which is NOCCA here and it's taught on, like, a college level as well. Winton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and all those guys went.

I was able to learn everything that I was playing and it was a backwards learning experience for me. Everything that they wanted the students to play I was already doing it, but they just wanted to help me understand and be able to speak in theory terms and learn how to read music and write different things to be a complete musician.

HANSEN: Yeah. One of the great musicians from New Orleans, Allen Toussaint, you actually cover one of his tunes, "On Your Way Down." Now, jazz musicians often do this, they rearrange each other's tunes, they sample from them, but you've completely revamped this one. Why? Did you want to just take it apart and put it back together?

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah, that's what I do a lot. I like songs and I like playing them the way they are, but I'm, like, if I'm going to make it my own and try to make my own attempt at it, we have to change it a bit. We worked on it, we tried different grooves and I was just, like, you know, we have to put down a New Orleans rhythm section type thing and build on top of that.

(Soundbite of song, "On Your Way Down")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) Sunrise, sunset. Since the beginning it hasn't changed yet. I said some people fly high begin to lose sight. You can't see very clearly when you're in flight. Well, it's high time that you found the same people you misuse on your way up you might meet up on your way down.

HANSEN: Did Allen Toussaint like it?

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah, that was the most 'cause he that's the only cover on the whole record. And I wanted to get him on it. And I didn't think he would like it because we changed it a bit. And he loved it. And he told me that I was I found a way to bridge the old and new together and that just made my day that he liked it and he played on the record.

HANSEN: Yeah. The song actually sounds like it could be a cautionary tale about the neighborhood.

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah.

HANSEN: I mean, is it a cautionary tale?

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah, definitely.


Mr. ANDREWS: I think that's a cautionary tale in life, you know.

HANSEN: I'm speaking to Trombone Shorty about his new CD "Backatown." You do cross genres, you do bring in new sounds, other sounds into your music. I mean, you might go from R&B to hard rock, what do you call it? Superfunk...

Mr. ANDREWS: Superfunk rock, yeah.

HANSEN: Superfunk rock, right. Right. So, where did all this other music come into your ears and settle with you?

Mr. ANDREWS: Well, as I was a kid, had a bunch of musicians, they always told me that I should listen to all styles of music and try to play all styles and be authentic at it if I can because you never know who's going to call you. This was coming from fellow horn players who would get the call to play with different type of people.

Since I was a kid that was just something I was always interested in. I was listening to Ministry and Garth Brooks and Charlie Pride and Wynton Marsalis and then I would listen to Juvenile or Lil Wayne. It's just that I'm a big fan of music. I'm a student of music. And I just want to learn and keep enhancing my education about the music. I just try to find a way to put it in, which we came up with superfunk rock, which in other words is just a gumbo. We just throw everything in the pot and hopefully it comes out tasting good or sounding good.

HANSEN: One of the rockin' cuts from your new CD is called "Suburbia."

Mr. ANDREWS: We actually wrote that onstage.

HANSEN: You did?

Mr. ANDREWS: Sometimes on my show I just play something out of the blue and the band picks up on it. And I had a melody, that melody actually came off the keyboard. The band was doing a rhythm section part and I had the melody, but I couldn't remember it. My drummer Joey is heavily influenced by hard rock bands and he's the one that came up with the idea of just driving rock over a melody like that.

(Soundbite of "Suburbia")

HANSEN: You've been on tour around the world, but you always go home again. What do you do when you're back in the old neighborhood?

Mr. ANDREWS: Whenever I'm in town, I have to go in Treme and hang out with the people that are still left, and my parents and everybody. They hang out there every day. And it just influences me musically, you know, like I was telling you, those type of people keep me happy and just smiling. You know, I just go hang out and talk with them. They tell me all type of old stories. And sometimes I might even pull my horn out in the middle of the block and they're playing on beer bottles and different things. And we just do a little second line type of thing, just us, four or five people and we just have fun.

You know, that makes my day to be able to do that and go hang out with the people in the neighborhood and do some shows around town, you know.

HANSEN: Yeah. A lot of people around the country are learning a little bit about your part of the city, Treme, because of the HBO series by the same name, and you've appeared in it. I want to ask you about a line that I heard in the series. One of the characters gets a job on Bourbon Street and he's really not happy about it. I mean, he wants to hide it. And several musicians, and I may be mistaken, but I think you're one of them, says to him: There's pride on Bourbon Street.

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah.

HANSEN: There's pride on Bourbon Street. What does that line mean?

Mr. ANDREWS: Bourbon Street is like playing a tourist, you know, it's just a tourist attraction. And that group of musicians, they are great and they play their all there, they got some of the tightest bands, you know. He's just embarrassed to go on and...

HANSEN: Yeah, he's not crazy about playing a strip club but it is going to pay the bills. And there are good musicians that, you know, need the money and need the gig.

Mr. ANDREWS: Yeah. I mean, those musicians on Bourbon Street, they play all day. They might start at 12 noon and end at 3:00 in the morning. Like, it's like sets, like a job, like sets. You go play, take a break, play again, take a break. Then later on at night the club gets busier and then you play some more. It's there's pride. You know, there's a group of great musicians and they're holding it down.

HANSEN: Troy Andrews, who performs as Trombone Shorty, he's playing with his band, Orleans Avenue, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival today. And he has a new CD out on the Verve Forecast label. It's called "Backatown." And Troy Andrews joined us from the studios from member station WWNO.

Thank you so much and the best of luck to you.

Mr. ANDREWS: Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: An update on a story we're following: the failed car bomb in New York's Time Square. Yesterday evening, a street vendor alerted police to smoke coming from the back of a parked SUV, its hazard lights on and engine running. Police later found a bomb inside the vehicle made of propane, gasoline and fireworks.

Authorities evacuated theaters and hotels in Time Square and closed part of the city's midtown area. The device failed to detonate. New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said it looked amateurish. No suspects are in custody. Police say they are studying surveillance video of the area.

This is WEEKEND EDITION. From NPR News, I'm Liane Hansen.

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