Troy Andrews earned his nickname at a jazz funeral. Only four years old at the time, Andrews was parading with a trombone almost twice his size -- his older brother spotted him and shouted "Trombone Shorty!"
A couple feet taller and twenty years older, Shorty still hasn't outgrown that exclamation, or its roots. A bona fide New Orleanian, he's a consummate trombonist and trumpeter who's been playing instruments since he could walk. Now, thanks to a boundless enthusiasm and an awe-inspiring talent, his new album Backatown has been sitting comfortably near the top of the Billboard Jazz chart for six straight weeks.
See how I called him awe-inspiring? It's a loaded label, I know. But anyone who can do this...
Yeah. Pretty nasty. It's a technique called circular breathing, which is more often reserved for instruments like the didgeridoo. Circular breathing allows a wind player to sustain a continuous tone or tones for an ungodly amount of time -- it's extremely difficult to master and utterly hypnotic to watch. Shorty's got it down cold.
In addition to the new album, Shorty's also making waves with a new collaboration. In light of the massive oil spill in the gulf, Shorty recently teamed up with Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, and the immutable Preservation Hall Jazz Band to record a benefit song for the catastrophe. Check out "It Ain't My Fault" to hear this bittersweet take on a classic New Orleans sound.
You can also catch Trombone Shorty on HBO's new series Treme, where he and a slew of other local musicians constantly pop up around his old hometown. Producer David Simon and cast member Kermit Ruffins talked with Studio 360 earlier this year about the importance of having New Orleans natives on the show.
- Stephen Reader