Trombone Shorty Gives a Hip-Hop Edge to Big Brass

Musician and Red Bull Street Kings judge Trombone Shorty on the importance of New Orleans music.
Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty © Jonathan Mannion
By Glen Ferris

Troy Andrews was first called Trombone Shorty when he was 4 years old and playing in his brother James Andrew's brass band. His trombone was taller than he was (as evidenced in early photos). "I was attracted to it because I could make an elephant sound on it almost right away," he said.

Now 27 and with multiple albums to his credit, the name has stuck. Trombone Shorty has shared the stage with, among other musical legends, Lenny Kravitz, Mannie Fresh and Dr. John. His latest album, 'Say That To Say This,' which came out last week on Verve, was produced by Raphael Saadiq. This weekend, he'll judge the four talented bands battling for the Red Bull Street Kings title. But before the competition begins, he gives us the lowdown on his formative musical experiences growing up in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood.

On His Early Years:

“I learned how to play drums and the world’s smallest trumpet at the age of three. My whole family played, so we had instruments all around the house - I’d pick stuff up, crawl inside a tuba. By the time I was 4, I was playing trombone. I was attracted to it because I could make an elephant sound on it almost right away. My brother [trumpeter and bandleader James Andrews] was a huge Louis Armstrong fan, and Louis always had a trombone player at his side. There was a shortage of trombone players in the family, so he really encouraged me on it."

Playing on the street is where I learned my showmanship. If I could get people on the street to stay for an hour to watch a free set, then that's a very powerful thing.

On Growing Up in Tremé:

"Growing up in the Tremé in a musical neighborhood and a musical family was like being in musical heaven. In the neighborhood was [jazz tubist and band leader] Tuba Fats, there was [jazz trumpeter] Kermit Ruffins and [NOLA institution] Rebirth Brass Band (who happen to be some of my cousins) teaching me on a daily basis how to get the job done. New Orleans made me the musician and the man I am."

On Brass Bands as a Way of Life:

"The brass bands are a huge part of the community, they're the true heartbeat of the city. New Orleans is a melting pot... music, food, celebrations, festivals and brass bands, second lines and soul. Brass bands come together in times of happiness, home-goings, they play together and they battle one another -- it's one love."

On Brass Band Battles:

"[My first brass band battle experience] was with the James Andrews All-Star Brass Band. We won! Playing on the street is where I learned my showmanship. If I could get people on the street to stay for an hour to watch a free set when they can go anywhere else, then that's a very powerful thing. I never let go of that feeling, to see a crowd grow and stay because they love what I've created."

On the Evolution of His Sound:

“As a kid, I played jazz but listened to more hip-hop. I’d put on the headphones and play solos over the beats of New Orleans rappers like Mystikal, Master P and Juvenile. I was responding to the rhythmic approach of these guys. Mystikal reminds me of Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, the way he phrases and how he moves rhythmically. I was trying to imitate that on my horn. The rhythms I borrow from hip-hop are often are in infused in my music - we just happen to play them on real drums."

On Red Bull Street Kings:

"It’s an extremely unique platform, one that is definitely needed. It's very important to the up-and-coming bands, as it gives them the opportunity to be showcased in a light that most of them have not yet experienced. Most bands begin on the streets and are never given a true opportunity to showcase their talents outside of what's considered to be a local ‘gig’. Red Bull Street Kings is their opportunity to shine bright for the world. It's healthy to battle, and show your strength as a musician amongst your peers. This type of competition broadens not only their minds, but it takes them to higher levels of creativity."

Trombone Shorty’s new album 'Say That To Say This' is available now.

More on Red Bull Street Kings right here.

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