Every time Troy Andrews, the New Orleans jazz-funk rocker known as Trombone Shorty, brings his tour to Washington, he slides into a natural groove – both onstage and off.
Whether funking it up at the 9:30 Club, entertaining a President of the United States at the White House as he did for Barack Obama in 2012, or simply walking down the city’s streets, Shorty says DC’s essence seeps into his bones.
“When I’m in DC, I feel like I’m home,” he told On Tap during a recent telephone interview from his New Orleans recording studio. “It was one of the first places we developed a big, strong fanbase. I know a little bit about go-go music, and there are a lot of similarities between DC and New Orleans – the horns and that type of vibe y’all have up there.”
The multi-instrumentalist and singer, whose stage name belies his band Orleans Avenue’s towering, horn-driven sound, will add yet another important DC venue to his resume on October 15, when Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue become the third band to rock The Anthem, a state-of-the-art new music space at The Wharf on DC’s Southwest Waterfront. Foo Fighters will christen the highly-anticipated new club’s stage three days earlier, on October 12.
Shorty arrives at The Anthem in support of his well-received fourth studio album, Parking Lot Symphony, which dropped last spring.
“I’ve heard about [The Anthem], and I’m ready to be one of the first people to play it and get it going,” Shorty declared. “We’re gonna put a little New Orleans in there – put some hot sauce on it!”
The trombone prodigy has been putting his hometown’s exquisite musical “hot sauce” on appreciative audiences since he was a small child. Born into an intensely musical family in the Tremé neighborhood, Shorty found himself onstage with blues legend Bo Diddley at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the age of four. Shortly after, he was touring Europe with his older brother and bandleader James Andrews.
When Shorty finished high school in 2005, he got a phone call that would change his life. A friend told him rock ‘n’ roll superstar Lenny Kravitz was sniffing around New Orleans looking for a horn player.
“I thought he was joking,” Shorty recalled, as if he still couldn’t quite believe it. “Then, Lenny called and I still thought it was a joke! But I went up to Miami and rehearsed with him. I didn’t have no idea that I was auditioning. But Lenny left [the rehearsal studio], and 20 minutes later, he came back and told me I was in the band.”
The subsequent world tour with Kravitz, which included dates with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Aerosmith, gave Shorty an up-close-and-personal tutorial on how to conduct himself at the highest levels of the music business. He and Kravitz remain close friends and musical collaborators.
“Fortunately, I was able to play with Lenny, and watch him every night in arenas and stadiums all over the world,” Shorty said. “He taught me discipline with the arrangements, and just how to put together a show.”
Those lessons still inform Shorty’s approach to music, whether on the road, in the studio or collaborating with pop music luminaries like U2, Eric Clapton, Zac Brown Band, Madonna, Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and more.
Shorty and his band have a deserved reputation for delivering some of the most blistering live sets on the rock ‘n’ roll circuit, with a brass-fueled energy that blends rock, jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop and punk into a potent musical stew. Asked how he keeps the energy levels so high, the eclectic musical explorer credited both punk rock and the second line brass bands he played in on the streets of New Orleans as a child.
“I listen to a lot of punk rock – Green Day, NOFX, Ministry and stuff like that, and my energy is naturally high like that,” Shorty explained. “I also used to play a lot of second line parades where we’re walking through the streets for four hours of music with no microphones, and people are bumping into each other. You might bust your lip or whatever, but it’s all about power. There is never a low point in that style of music. I think that energy has transferred to me onstage.”
Of the hundreds of gigs the 31-year-old musician has played, he said one is singularly special: the night he played for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during a Black History Month event at the White House.
“To see my grandmother smile when I told her I was going to play for the president meant the world to me,” he said softly. “I was onstage with Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Booker T. and all of these legends. I’m a big fan of all of them. And the day we played, it was Mardi Gras and the chef or the president or someone sent me up a shrimp po’boy at the White House.”
As he got lost in the music that memorable day, near delirious with excitement as he dug in hard on his horn to match the skills of legends who surrounded him, Shorty realized why he does it.
“I’m not just playing music to be playing music, or because I’m onstage,” Shorty said. “I’m really spiritually connected to the music, and I think that transfers to the people and it comes back to me. Then, that makes me go to another level.”
Shorty added that he plays music because it means everything to him.
“It’s not about fame and it’s not about money. That’s just how I play. That’s the only way I know how to play.”
Catch Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at The Anthem on Sunday, October 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $37-$57. Learn more about Shorty and his band at www.tromboneshorty.com.
The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.theanthemdc.com