Trombone Shorty talks hip-hop influences, New Orleans heritage

Last night, for the second year in a row, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue closed out the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a prestigious slot that was awarded to another hometown favorite for nearly 20 years, The Neville Brothers. The passing of the torch to Trombone Shorty makes sense, however, as the brass band-leader embraces his New Orleans heritage while spiking it with the more contemporary sounds of hip-hop. As the Times-Picayune put it, Shorty’s band “carries his hometown's sound to something quite like rock 'n' roll stardom.”

In a recent interview with Vibe, Shorty talked about his days hustling in New Orleans' vibrant Street Music scene and how hip-hop is “the root” of how he creates his music.

A native of New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood, the 28-year-old Shorty, aka Troy Andrews, mastered his instrument with the help of his brother, a trumpet player who would bring him along on tours of Europe in the summer. Coming from a large musical family, Shorty took the knowledge gleaned from his siblings and put together his own group of pint-sized performers “to imitate what I was doing with my brothers band.”

“We had like five young kids between the ages nine through 12 and we’d be out here playing and doing what we see, that the older musicians were playing,” he says. Performing in New Orleans’ fabled Jackson Square, the group learned at a young age how to make a living playing music.

“Sometimes on a good day, at 10-years-old, we would make like $400 a piece,” Shorty says. “We would have to put money in our shoe, everywhere that we could think of, because our pockets were so small we couldn’t really fit it in there.”

Despite the monetary rewards, Shorty said, “We really did for the music and to get the knowledge of it.” Still, pulling in that money did have its benefits, he says. “Whenever we could buy ourselves our own Playstation games...that was always fun.”

Describing Treme as a “musical village” during his early years, the vibrant world of New Orleans’ hip-hop scene also drew Trombone Shorty’s attention as a youth.

“I soak everything in like a sponge, and just put everything into one thing,” Shorty says. “I got a chance to work with Mystikal and Mannie Fresh and Juvenile and all these people as I was growing up and so that really influenced everything I do.”

That influence shines through in the music of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, who performed with Macklemore and Madonna at the Grammys, as well as Janelle Monae, Earth Wind & Fire, and others at the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans earlier this year. As someone who embraces all styles of music while maintaining a distinct Cajun spice, there may be no better ambassador for the rich, diverse musical traditions of the Crescent City.

Watch the video above for Vibe’s full interview with Trombone Shorty.