The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is celebrating the music of New Orleans all this week by glancing backward. But one artist in this mix is looking forward. The latest edition of the Rock Hall's annual American Music Masters series pays tribute to the birth of N'Awlins-style R&B with a series of programs and concerts spotlighting pioneers Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew, but new-school Big Easy native Trombone Shorty honors the same music from a slightly different perspective.
On his latest album, Backatown, 24-year-old Troy Andrews — he was six when he first started playing his favorite instrument, and the nickname stuck — soaks in his hometown music's traditions only to emerge with something a little more flashy, contemporary, and funky. It's the crowning achievement in the musician's surprisingly lengthy career (he released his debut album when he was 16), which has taken him from NOLA clubs to a recurring role on HBO's Treme and gigs with the Dave Matthews Band. He's also squeezed in a song with U2 and an appearance on Monday Night Football.
It's been a big year for Andrews. In addition to releasing Backatown in April, he recently laid down some tracks for Lenny Kravitz's new album, shot an episode of Austin City Limits, performed at the NFL's season-kickoff event, did most of the late-night talk-show rounds, and served as music director for a pair of concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Plus, he just wrapped a successful European tour with Jeff Beck.
"I'm into all styles of music," he says. "I just try to do my interpretation of everything that came before me."
It's all come somewhat naturally to Andrews. He grew up in the Treme neighborhood near the French Quarter (the same one seen in the TV show), picking up the trombone before he could even really carry it. His older brother is trumpet player James Andrews. And a long list of relatives — from a grandfather to cousins — has been associated with R&B and jazz since the 1950s.
"Just coming from New Orleans and growing up there, there's a different approach to things," he says. "We learn things and we make it our own. I've learned from so many people. They encouraged me to take whatever it is we do in New Orleans and take it to the next level."
Over the years, Andrews, who also plays trumpet, has performed with some of New Orleans' most prestigious stars, including Dr. John, members of the Neville Brothers, and some of the city's storied brass bands. He was a member of Lenny Kravitz's horn section in 2005. Touring with the rocker, he says, opened his ears even more to the varied sounds that were seeping into his music.
The harder tones that occasionally creep into Backatown? They're most likely Kravitz's influence. "I got to see how a true rock star controls arenas every night and how tight his music is," says Andrews. "We worked on things over and over, and I was able to bring that back to my band and get everything tight."
Andrews is a disciplined player, even though his busy schedule doesn't give him much time to practice with his Orleans Avenue band these days. He likes to go off musically from time to time, exploring paths with his horn that may not have been visited before — or maybe they have, and Andrews is just walking down them with a slightly different stride.
"Growing up as a kid, we would learn music and make it our own," he says. "We had a brass band and we were covering Stevie Wonder songs, making them New Orleans. Music has always been a world to me. When I'm playing music, I'm just visiting different places. This is my interpretation of it. It's there, I learn from it, and it's up to me to make my own music from what they left me."
Andrews is all about taking his music to the next level, but he knows he wouldn't be where he is today without his hometown's past and the music of legends like Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. "I'm a big fan of New Orleans music and the people who helped it become what it is," he says. "For me to understand where I'm going, I have to go back. New Orleans music is like a gumbo pot of American music."
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