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Goin' Home, Eventually

My jam-band friends returned from the String Cheese Incident's Beacon Theater shows in July singing the praises of "that guy from New Orleans" who stepped onstage with a trombone and "took the thing to another level." After that same guy—Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty—played "O Holy Night" (on trumpet this time) during an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, viewer response prompted NBC to release the song as a free download.

On the show, Andrews played a New Orleans evacuee subbing on a Christmas show when a TV-band regular calls in sick as a post-Katrina goodwill gesture. In real life, the 21-year-old Andrews has had no trouble creating his own opportunities; the fact that he's so often displaced these days owes simply to his all-season touring schedule. "I'm on the road 80 percent of the time," Andrews said via cell phone from his tour bus. "But if I spend that 20 percent anywhere, it's got to be New Orleans." Though he now lives in the French Quarter, the trombonist grew up in Tremé , within a celebrated family of musicians: His older brother, trumpeter James Andrews, was his clearest musical mentor, but there were other nurturers, blood relatives that play in several of the city's best brass bands and jazz ensembles.

Andrews recalls marching down his street as a toddler, using cardboard boxes, plastic soda bottles, and tree branches to lead homemade second-line parades. At five, he played trombone in the real thing; during one procession, his brother James shouted, "Trombone Shorty!", and the name stuck. Now 5-foot-11, Andrews has outgrown his moniker, but it's nonetheless become something of a brand name for a crowd-pleasing, genre-free style built on New Orleans tradition. The cover of 2005's The End of the Beginning shows Andrews in a dark suit and tie; on it, he plays first-rate straight-ahead jazz. But he wears an open-collared shirt and jeans on the front of the new Orleans and Claiborne, and the music within reveals a truer identity. With his Orleans Avenue band, Andrews crafts what he calls "super-funked, jazzed-out rock." In fact, "It's a lot like Lenny Kravitz's music," Andrews says, referencing his frequent employer since 2005. "Except instead of guitar, I play horn."

Andrews and Kravitz are key elements on the funkiest track from the new star-studded Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino CD. "What Fats did was to take the New Orleans thing to another place," Andrews says. "He made New Orleans tradition commercial without losing its essence. That's what I'm trying to do."

Originally published on September 25, 2007, in The Village Voice. Copyright © 2007 by Larry Blumenfeld. Reprinted with permission.


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