Trombone Shorty doesn’t think about music in terms of genre. Rather, he thinks of different styles like different neighborhoods. It’s the result of the artist, born Troy Andrews, growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city where musical trends and energies are born and born again almost daily.
Andrews, who will release his latest LP, Lifted, on Friday (April 29) was born and raised in the Crescent City. He grew up with music like a fish does with water. It was everywhere—so much so that he didn’t even realize it. His brother, cousins, and other family members were ensconced in it. It was only in high school that Andrews even considered a life outside of music. But that wasn’t for long. Now, he’s one of the most accomplished and prolific players, able to weave between traditional jazz, rock, pop, and more.
“I attribute that to New Orleans being a place that’s influenced by all styles of music,” Andrews tells American Songwriter. “All of it is intriguing to me. Without me even knowing, I grew up just hearing music to where I didn’t think of it as anything different. I didn’t think of it as different genres.”
To date, the 36-year-old Andrews has collaborated with artists many call their favorites, from the Neville Brothers to Dr. John, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, the rapper Juvenile, Gary Clark Jr., Dave Grohl, Mark Ronson, U2, Green Day, Macklemore and many more.
“What helps me,” he says, “is that I’m just a music lover and fan of music. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to go into different genres—I like to call them neighborhoods.”
Andrews is a fan of all kinds, from mariachi to death metal. He visits them as much as listens to them. Like a well-liked next-door neighbor, he pops from one “home” to the next. And like a sonic treasure hunt, this gives Andrews the tools he needs to create songs and styles, moods and feelings with a vast, desirable range. But while he’s done just about everything in his chosen field of music composition and performance—including playing for the Obamas at the White House—Andrews says one opportunity particularly feels both formative and informative: performing with Kravitz.
“I was a fan of his since I was a kid, I love funk and rock music,” Andrews says. “I got a call when I was 18 or 19 years old to join his band. Me already being a fan and just doing that, it was a great, impressionable time for me. Still to this day, we work together and talk a few times a week. That was a wonderful pivotal moment musically, for me.”
Working with Kravitz, he says, helped in the way he approached stage performance and how he led his band. It’s something he says he’ll never forget and for which he will always remain grateful. As one might imagine, collaboration has been a through-line in Andrews’ life and musical career. As a young person, Andrews was introduced to music by his brother James, who also played brass. Andrews grew up in the supremely musical neighborhood of Treme in New Orleans (a region HBO has chronicled in its series of the same name). His brother played trumpet, so Andrews got the trombone.
“I was like his sidekick,” Andrews says of his brother. “I wanted to be just like him.”
Across the street from his home lived Andrews’ cousins—some of whom are professional musicians today. So, as he got older, he began collaborating with them, teaching them what his brother had taught him. Different players would filter in and out of that collection of players and that’s how Andrews, who is today a multi-instrumentalist, learned his versatility. Sometimes the group would have a tuba player, so he played trumpet. Other times they needed a tuba player, so he picked it up. Or he took up the snare drum or bass drum—whatever was needed. At the time, all of this seemed normal. Thanks to the spirit of the city that seemingly imbues everything with song.
“New Orleans is my heart,” Andrews says. “Without it, without New Orleans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I look at the whole city as a village of people that helped raise me and teach me and give me the courage to go around the world and do what I do.”
In the “magical city,” music is the heartbeat. But that doesn’t mean everything was easy along the way. Andrews lost his brother Darnell at a young age. Darnell was shot and killed when Andrews was about 10 years old and Darnell was 17. While he was too young to fully grasp what had happened, he felt the spirituality in the funeral proceedings—everyone crying, the music serving as a healing balm. As a result of the violence, Andrews also split time between Treme and living with a family friend, Susan. It was that safety that helped him blossom and that connection with song that kept him rooted. And that balance has led him to a prolific output, playing on dozens of albums, including his latest.
“This record is talking about life’s ups-and-downs, being strong throughout whatever’s coming or being thrown your way,” Andrews says. “But underneath it is the music and with the music, we went [into the studio] with the attitude of ‘ Let’s be as tight as we can but let’s play as if we’re playing on the stage at a festival.’”
Andrews recorded the album at his home studio, so it was something he could work on whenever and however he wanted. It’s funny; in New Orleans, there is such an emphasis placed on live shows. It’s the lifeblood of the city. But that emphasis can make it hard to translate a band’s feel to a studio record. So, keeping the band and the songs as tight as possible was paramount for Andrews. And goodness did it work. Songs like the big, funky “Lifted” and the profound “What It Takes” really stand out. There’s depth, verve, and vigor.
“I wanted to capture the music, the dirtiness, and rawness of the brass band second-line rhythms,” Andrews says. “That is the music, the sound that I grew up dancing to and playing to. That’s the first type of music I ever heard.”
The LP features traditional New Orleans sounds and rhythms, along with pop movements, rock, and more. It’s the type of stuff that excites Andrews as a player and it’s stuff he’s excited about bringing out on tour this spring and summer. And on April 30, the day after his record comes out, he’ll be joined by Joan Jett, Gary Clark Jr., and more at his “Treme Threauxdown.” Diversity. That’s the name of the game when it comes to neighbors and beloved noise.
“It’s not about fame,” Andrews says. “It’s not about making money. It’s literally about making music, to me. I grew up playing before I knew any of that. Just me and my neighborhood and the people of New Orleans making music.”
Photo by Justen Williams / Shore Fire Media