BY FRANK DE BLASE
If you’ve been to the last two Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festivals, you may already be well acquainted with Trombone Shorty and his band, Orleans Avenue. This will be the band’s third Jazz Fest appearance in a row. And according to the Jazz Fest brass, Shorty actually called and asked to come back.
“Every time we go there we have a great time,” says Shorty (government name: Troy Andrews). “I think this is the only festival we’ve done back to back.”
Shorty is bringing the New Orleans sound to a generation of fans perhaps a little removed from its traditions. In a way, he’s saving New Orleans music from complacency with a unique sound that he calls “supafunkrock.” His energetic, ebullient performances — including those at the past two XRIJFs — have a tendency to whip the crowd into a frantic, feel-good frenzy. And yet Shorty remains humble.
“I don’t think I’m trying to save anything,” he says. “Everything is influenced by New Orleans. I may be creating something new; I’m not sure. I’m just doing what I feel like at the moment, and I just happen to be from New Orleans, influenced by what’s going on. And I’m part of a next phase of music, where 20 years from now some youngster will take what I’m doing and move the music forward.”
Shorty started out as a shorty playing the trombone when he was only 4. The instrument dwarfed him, hence the nickname. Three years later he was in a band and on the road. He credits his big brother for it all.
“James Andrews,” Shorty says. “He was a trumpet player and had a band. I started playing around 4, and by the time I was 7 years old, he had me on tour with him, every summer in Europe. Every weekend I’d play gigs around town with him. He just kept me by his side. That’s the thing that really opened me up. I’ve got to give all the credit to him.”
Credit is also due to Shorty’s vision and musical versatility. He has reached outside his Louisiana wheelhouse to blow his horn on stage with acts like Green Day, U2, and Jeff Beck. And on his new album, “For True,” he has a pile of guests that make sense, and a few that don’t. Besides New Orleans fixtures like Ivan and Cyril Neville, The Rebirth Brass Band, and 5th Ward Weebie, the platter also has guests like Jeff Beck, Kid Rock, Ledisi, Warren Haynes, and Lenny Kravitz. Shorty and his band avoid nothing.
“No, not really,” says Shorty, “as long as I can play it and I respect it. I just let it go — whatever it may be. I just let the music take us there. You know, being in New Orleans we’re influenced by so much, we’re exposed to so much. I’ll go from playing with the Neville Brothers or Dr. John to onstage with Juvenile or Mystikal.”
Shorty is even flirting with heavier stuff, if that’s possible. “I jammed over some Nine Inch Nails on my iPod when I was warming up one time. I’d like to do some of that live,” he says.
It all boils down to Shorty and his trombone, which he wields like a rock instrument — a guitar. Does it measure up?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m trying, I’m trying. Hopefully it’ll become the norm soon and the kids coming up after me will keep it going.”
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue perform a free show Saturday, June 30, at 9 p.m. at the City of Rochester East Ave/Alexander Street Stage.