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How Trombone Shorty is training the next generation of musicians in his hometown

Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, grew up with music all around him in New Orleans, first playing on the streets at age 4. Now with a Grammy, an international following and a new album, Andrews also devotes himself to the role of music educator in his hometown. Jeffrey Brown reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    An old New Orleans art form is winning over new audiences on the international stage.

    Jeffrey Brown visited one of the Crescent City's music royalty recently to discuss his latest album and why training the next generation is so essential.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    This, Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, told me, is how he grew up in New Orleans, with music all around.

    We'd driven to his Treme neighborhood, he pulled out his horn, others joined in, and suddenly it was just like old times, an impromptu second line parade, a quintessential New Orleans art form in which a band marches while onlookers join in.

  • Troy Andrews:

    Pull over. That's my cousin. That's my cousin.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But this is what you were telling me about when you were a kid. You would just run into people?

  • Troy Andrews:

    That's right. That's right. We would just run in.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And everybody's a musician.

  • Troy Andrews:

    everybody's a musician, yes.

    Even though some of the people that I grew up under doesn't live here anymore, there's something about this neighborhood that we can't let go. These people come over here and hang out because it's that much embedded in their soul and heart that they have to be here. It's a special place, magical.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    He was a shorty when he first played on these streets at age 4 with a trombone larger than he was, and the name stuck.

    Andrews was born into a musical family. His grandfather was singer-songwriter Jessie Hill. He led his first band at age 8 and was a touring musician by 10. He played with Bo Diddley, and got a New Orleans-style education with a variety of local greats, including Wynton Marsalis and the Neville Brothers.

  • Troy Andrews:

    In my neighborhood, it was music 24/7, so I just wanted to be like the people that I saw that took me and put me on their side in some of those pictures and videos as a kid. You can see that I just really literally looked up to them. And they would play things to me, and I would try to play them back.

    And they still do it still to today.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What was the most important thing that you learned from older musicians?

  • Troy Andrews:

    The older musicians always wanted to make sure I understood where everything started before I can be good at it, or understand where I needed to be later on in life.

    So they taught me to respect the music that came before, and make sure that I pay attention. But the most important thing they all drilled in my head was to be open-minded and to learn all styles of music.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Years later, at the ripe old age of 31, with a Grammy and an international following, Andrews is a performer who's absorbed different styles by playing with a variety of musicians, including rock stars like the Foo Fighters.

    His new album, with his band Orleans Avenue, is called "Parking Lot Symphony." He plays trombone, of course, but also trumpet, and sings, producing a sound he calls Supafunkrock.

  • Troy Andrews:

    It's basically a high-energy funk music, basically a big Mardi Gras party wherever we go. It's a lot of rock, a lot of soul, hip-hop. Jazz is in there. It's just a big collective of New Orleans music.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Andrews told me he thinks of himself as a kind of rock guitar trombonist. But back at his rehearsal and recording studio, he got down to basics, beginning with how hard the instrument is to play.

  • Troy Andrews:

    So, playing something fast like that, on a show, if you're not really accurate, it would be like — and it would be like that.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You're missing the note, or you're in between.

  • Troy Andrews:

    You use your tongue too. Because there's no valves, you can't hit it. But then there's like some growling things, and maybe try to imitate off a guitar. And also here there's a thing that we call tailgating. That's just outlining the melody without playing it with the actual trumpet player.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Playing around the melody?

  • Troy Andrews:

    Yes.

    For instance, we will do "When the Saints Go Marching In," and it will be like — the melody will be like — then a trombone will say…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    These days, Troy Andrews is one of this city's leading musical ambassadors, given the honor of closing the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, known as Jazz Fest.

    And he takes the role of educator very seriously as well, through his now 6-year-old Trombone Shorty Foundation and its musical academy. It's an after-school, after-band practice gathering for high school musicians from all over the city, a chance to meet new friends and learn from older professional players.

    Andrews, constantly on the road touring, stops in whenever he's in town.

    Asia Muhaimin, a high school band director by day, oversees instruction at the academy.

  • Asia Muhaimin:

    They come in already able to play, but I think it's that connection. It's that camaraderie. They're learning from those professional musicians that they — they don't get in school.

    See, most music teachers, we're not out in the street performing, and we're not flying all over the world. But being able to work with Trombone Shorty, the gentlemen from different — the brass bands, it's just something that is totally different from what they're used to.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Seventeen-year-old clarinetist Whitney Winford is in her third year at the academy.

  • Whitney Winford:

    It's amazing to know that I'm somewhere close with like something that is like far out there, and like where I want to be. And him being there can help me get myself out there, and he also gives me the confidence that I could be him.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    That's where you want to be, where he is?

  • Whitney Winford:

    Yes. Yes, I want to be where he is.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Christopher Plummer, also 17, spoke about the power of mentorship.

  • Christopher Plummer:

    A mentor doesn't tell you what to do and how to go about it. They guide you mostly. They lead by example. They show me step by step of what makes them great and successful.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Back in Treme, Troy Andrews' aunt Debra waved us over to see how he looked as a teen playing with the Rebirth Brass Band and showed us an old cracked photo that had survived Katrina.

  • Troy Andrews:

    That's my mom right there.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I'm wondering if a young kid could grow up now, like you did, and be surrounded by that community of musicians.

  • Troy Andrews:

    I may be the last person in the Treme to grow up like that, but there are kids out there that's getting the culture, and starting to be friends with some of the musicians. And they just take them in and teach them.

    What I wanted to do is just give the kids an opportunity. And if I can affect them in any type of positive way to keep the music alive — or, like I always tell them, I'm not expecting you to keep a certain style of music alive, but just to learn what we do here, and then you can be creative and take it to the next part.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jeffrey Brown in New Orleans.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You can find more of our conversation and Trombone Shorty's performance on our Web site.

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