Many New Orleanians have followed the rising musical star of Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews' since he was brought onstage at the 1990 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival by blues legend Bo Diddley — a magic moment captured by late photographer Michael P. Smith as the four-and-a-half year old Andrews lofted a trombone taller than he was. Local music lovers feel a proud parent's type of joy regarding the precious success he's achieved since then.
In this spirit, a phone interview with Andrews at a hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., felt like a parent checking in on a kid away at college and marveling at all he's mastered so many miles from home. The day after performing at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Andrews is as gracious and humble as ever while discussing the release of Say That to Say This, dropping Sept. 10 on Verve Records. It follows 2010's Grammy-nominated Backatown and 2012's For True, which spent 12 weeks atop Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart. Andrews was recently hailed on NPR as "New Orleans' brightest new star in a generation," has gigged with everyone from Dr. Dre to Jeff Beck and appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He also has graced the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's poster (2012) and Congo Square poster (2009).
"I was shocked when I got both calls," Shorty says of the portraits by James Michalopoulos and Terrance Osborne. "I couldn't believe it; I thought I was too young to be considered."
Andrews also is a ubiquitious figure around town, and recent appearances included a fundraiser for his alma mater Warren Easton Charter High School and a scheduled slot singing the national anthem at the New Orleans Saints season opener. Even given his new globetrotting status, Andrew is a homeboy at heart and relates his music to his musical family and hometown.
"I knew I wanted to be a musician at an early age," Andrews says. "So my older brother James would take me around to people: Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Rebirth. I had the chance to work with DJ Mannie Fresh. I was just hearing all that music as music ... I really didn't know what all that would mean 10 years later; I just wanted to keep my mind and ears open."
Andrews absorbed the city's myriad musical styles — jazz, R&B, funk, rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, all swinging to the cohesive quality Jelly Roll Morton called "the Spanish tinge." Backed by his band Orleans Avenue — Michael Ballard (bass), Pete Murano (guitar), Dan Oestreicher (baritone sax), Joey Peebles (drums) and Tim McFatter (tenor sax) — the mix is on masterful display on Say That to Say This' 10 tracks.
For the cover of "Be My Lady," Andrews persuaded the original members of The Meters members to reconvene for the first time in a studio together since 1977 to help lay down a 21st-century take on the ballad.
"When I finished the record, [co-producer Raphael Saadiq and I] realized it needed a smooth ballad," Andres says.
"I've been a fan of that song for years so I called each individual member — and there was a moment of silence on the other end each time I called," he adds. "I love The Meters. I know how important they are. I was schooled by driving around the city with my cousin Travis Hill, listening to The Meters, Ernie K-Doe, that was my music lesson."
The driving rhythms and imagery of rough city streets in "Fire and Brimstone" call to mind Andrews' native New Orleans, but he says the song, like his approach, may be rooted in New Orleans but strives for universal appeal and understanding. "The song's blowing hard about keep moving forward, never stop dreaming," he says.