Tavis: Trombone Shorty. Don’t you love the name? Trombone Shorty is a talented young jazz artist from, where else, New Orleans out now with a critically acclaimed CD called “Backatown.” He also has a role on the new HBO series, Tremé. But on June 12, he’ll be part of the Playboy Jazz Festival lineup right here at the Hollywood Bowl. Trombone Shorty, good to have you on the program.
Trombone Shorty: Thank for having me.
Tavis: You doing all right, man?
Shorty: I’m doing wonderful.
Tavis: You can’t tell me nothing now. You know why? I just told Ben Kingsley. I just got back from New Orleans. We’re filming a special there about the fifth anniversary of Katrina. So the last day of shooting, I guess Sunday, the whole day, I was with musical artists.
So I’m hanging out onstage with Lenny Kravitz, I’m hanging out with Allen Toussaint, hanging out with Donald Harrison, Jr. and, for the first time in my life, I played with a brass band down the street.
Shorty: In the second line.
Tavis: In the second line. I did my first second line. I alternated between the tambourine, did a little drum, did a little cymbal. You can’t tell me nothing, man (laughter). I was marching down the street second line New Orleans, hung out in Backatown, speaking of “Backatown.” I was in Backatown all day on Sunday, so I just came back from your hometown. I had a blast down there.
Shorty: Man, I wish I was there to take you around.
Tavis: Yeah, I had a good time. Speaking of Lenny Kravitz, you hung out with Kravitz for some time.
Shorty: Yeah, yeah. I played in his band for a while. He played on my record. I’m going to do a couple dates in a few weeks. He’s a wonderful mentor and great person to be around.
Tavis: What’s a trombone player – I’m gonna ask you to set your modesty aside for a second. As great as Lenny is, what’s a trombone player bring to Lenny and what’s a trombone player take away from hanging out with Lenny?
Shorty: Well, being from New Orleans, you bring a little gumbo to it, you know. Taking from that, just watching him control an audience of a couple thousand people and just being able to play with discipline.
He wants it like the record and, coming from New Orleans and playing jazz and everything, you learn what you learn, then you do your own thing. But with him, I had to learn that and get the discipline. But it was a wonderful experience, you know, to be able to get that side of it and add it with what I already had.
Tavis: Lenny has a certain – if I can use this word on PBS – had a certain swagger, as you well know. I’ll explain that to you later. Lenny has a certain swagger and everybody who writes about you now says the same thing, that you’re a trombonist. But I keep seeing this phrase: he’s a jazz rock star.
They talk not just about your playing, but about your stage presence, that your swagger on stage is so cold. Talk to me as best you can about not just the music, but about your stage presence. Does it occur to you that your stage presence is pretty tight?
Shorty: I’m working on it.
Shorty: Well, I mean, just being in New Orleans, you’ve got people from Louis Armstrong that was an entertainer and I try to follow that. You know, just follow that plan hard and I just get bored by myself when I’m up there playing all this. So I just wanted to become an entertainer all around, singing, dancing, whatever, getting the crowd involved. You know, it’s just that thing. It’s just part of the city and what we do and taking that from Louis Armstrong.
Tavis: I was in Musicians’ Village one day for the special hanging out with the Marsalis family and the patriarch, of course, Mr. Ellis Marsalis. I asked him, if I had been born and raised in New Orleans, whether or not I might be a great artist. He say, “Probably not.” (Laughter)
I ask that because it seems like it’s in the water. It’s like everybody down there – I promise you, I’m getting these kids out here. This brass band I played with, 12, 13, the oldest kid in the brass band was like 16.
Shorty: That the Baby Boy’z?
Shorty: That’s all my little cousins.
Tavis: (Laughter) Now that don’t surprise me. You know why? Because everybody in New Orleans is a cousin. Everybody is related down there, man. These kids are amazing and I was hanging out with them.
I was asking Mr. Marsalis in a separate conversation how much this has to do with what’s in the water and he said, “Well, you wouldn’t be a great artist just because you were born and raised here, but there is a greater percentage that you could be good if you played because you get exposed to everything.”
Shorty: Everything. I mean, I got a chance to hang out with the Neville brothers, then go hang out with Branford, hang out with Juvenile. Just to have all those people there and learn from them, Tuba Fats, you know, Kermit Ruffins, all those people, and being a student of music, having all those people to help me out and teach me different things, it’s just wonderful.
Tavis: So Bono saw you when you were 12 and started raving about you then, but you were playing obviously prior to 12. So you picked your instrument when? How old?
Tavis: Why this one?
Shorty: I don’t know. I think my brother planted it on me because he was so influenced by Louis Armstrong. He plays the trumpet, my brother, and Louis Armstrong always –
Tavis: – James.
Shorty: Yeah, James. He always had a sidekick trombone player, so he gave it to me, I think. We had a bunch of instruments around the house. Like I played different instruments, trumpet, bass, drums, piano, all that, but whatever I could get my hands on.
Tavis: I’ve seen those pictures. I think I get now why they nicknamed you Trombone Shorty.
Shorty: Yeah. Well, you know, putting the horn together, I was probably this tall.
Tavis: Yeah, you see that picture there (laughter).
Shorty: I was barely holding it, but that’s when my brother James called it and it stuck with me.
Tavis: Yeah. It helps a lot when you have the right nickname. If it sticks and it’s right and it’s true to your character, that helps, I think, in the marketing promotion of the artist, yes?
Shorty: Yes, definitely. It works wonderful.
Tavis: They ain’t but one Trombone Shorty in the whole world.
Shorty: That’s it.
Tavis: That sticks out.
Shorty: Yeah. I met a guy a couple weeks named Guitar Shorty.
Tavis: (Laughter) Well, you got Trombone Shorty and Guitar Shorty.
Shorty: Yeah. He was a bit older than me. He was like, “Watch yourself now.”
Tavis: (Laughter) This your first time playing in the Playboy Jazz Festival?
Shorty: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: How cool is that? It’s the premier festival in the world.
Shorty: Oh, it’s wonderful. I’ve been looking at it online for years. Some of my friends from New Orleans played it. They called me and told me how wonderful it was and I’m happy that we able to get it and be there this year.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Tell me about the record “Backatown.”
Shorty: Yeah, “Backatown.” It’s a major label debut on Verve Forecast Universal. With this record, we spent so much time in the studio in between touring and everything. I’m happy about it. I’m excited. You know, we got Lenny on it, sung a song. We covered Mr. Allen Toussaint “On Your Way Down” and we got a good friend from Lafayette, Louisiana, Marc Broussard.
It’s cool, you know. I just wanted to make something that I can give to my peers because, sometimes when they see a horn, they get a little nervous. So I just wanted to do something that I feel comfortable with and something everybody can jam to and dance to.
Tavis: When you mentioned ago this is your major record label debut, you’ve done four or five of these before. So you’ve done some records before. What does it mean at this point in your career to have a major record label debut with Verve?
Shorty: It means a lot, you know. When I did my other records, I started my own label when I was 17. I just wanted to have a couple of CDs around. We were playing around town just to sell to other people. You know, I’ve matured now as an artist and I think we waited the right amount of time before we approached the label. It just allows us to use that machinery and get it out to a bunch of people.
Tavis: Is New Orleans still home for you?
Shorty: Yeah, home. I’m never there, but it’s home.
Tavis: You sleep there every now and then (laughter).
Shorty: Every now and then. We go in for one day or two. We do like 200 dates a year. So whenever I get a chance, I like to go home and hang out with the family, you know.
Tavis: I asked that because I want to close by asking how it feels for you five years after Katrina.
Shorty: Yeah. I mean, the city’s bouncing back. We still have some things we need to fix up and get going, but the people of New Orleans are wonderful and strong people and it’s a great community effort that we all help each other. You know, I’m just happy to be from there and bring more attention and let them know that we still alive and kicking.
Tavis: Indeed they are alive and kicking down in New Orleans. The special that I have referenced three times tonight, it’s front of brain because, again, I just came back from New Orleans. This will be our third PBS prime time special. It will air Wednesday night, July 21, our special about our unique on New Orleans five years later.
The new record from Trombone Shorty is called “Backatown.” Again, he’ll be here for the Playboy Jazz Festival and I will be there to check out Trombone Shorty, as I’m sure others will be. If you can’t get to Los Angeles for the Playboy Jazz Festival, run out and pick up the record. You will not be disappointed.
I’ve got about 30 seconds here to go. I’m gonna say goodnight from Los Angeles and that I will see you tomorrow night. Until then, thanks for watching and keep the faith. We got 30 seconds to check out some Trombone Shorty. Hit it, Trombone.