He grew up in the tradition but has charted his own musical path.
Today is Troy Andrews’ 34th birthday — a millennial musician, singer, songwriter and children’s book author who has been able to amass a considerable play list that represents the past, present and, I hope, the future of New Orleans music. Today it’s all about Trombone Shorty on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa. (Recording of the show below).
According to the Trombone Shorty website, Andrews got his nickname when he picked up his instrument at four. His older brother, noted trumpeter James Andrews, gave him the tag. “My parents pushed me toward trombone because they didn’t need another trumpet player.”
The moment was memorialized in a legendary 1990 photo (with a great story to go with it) from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Bo Diddley was performing on stage when the crowd deposited before him a four-year-old boy barely hanging on to a trombone. When Trombone Shorty blew his horn on that stage with Diddley’s mouth agape, it was tantamount to King Arthur pulling a sword out of a stone in terms of creating a New Orleans music legend.
On today’s show, you’ll only hear three songs directly attributed to Troy Andrews — which is the limit that federal law places on me when I stream a show. However, every song you’ll hear until the last one is a song in which he performs. This means the show includes Dr. John, Galactic, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint, Lenny Kravitz, Mindi Abair, Rebirth Brass Band, Los Hombres Calientes, The Soul Rebels, Hot 8 Brass Band, Stanton Moore, Lakou Mizik and the To Be Continued Brass Band. As well as his own band Orleans Avenue.
Andrews has not forgotten his community now that he’s an international star. He founded the Trombone Shorty Foundation which provides professional support to budding musicians in New Orleans and he’s the author of two children’s books that details stories from his childhood. The self-titled first book tells the story of how he got his nickname and received a Caldecott Honor Book award.
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The Dirty Dozen Brass Band kicks off this week’s show with “It Ain’t What You Think.” Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Get it started to find out.
The next set starts with a 2019 New Orleans record that I didn’t have a chance to get to during last week’s show of 2019 in review. Lakou Mizik, from Haiti, recorded their latest album HaitiNola in New Orleans and I play a track featuring Leyla McCalla, a singer/songwriter with strong family ties to Haiti. The set carries on with another new release by The Electric Arch and a Latin number by The Iguanas.
The show carries on swinging from funk, jazz, R&B and zydeco — accented with a tasteful number of winter holiday songs. This show includes a jazzy cover of “Wang Dang Doodle,” a new song by the Soul Rebels, the Sailor’s Hornpipe with Alex McMurray’s Valaparaiso Men’s Chorus and a raunchy cover of “Ooh – Poo – Pah – Doo.”
Last week, I did a summary of 2014 New Orleans releases. The list got so long, I needed a second round. I’m not organized enough to put them in any order so there’s no shame, as will be proven when you read below, in being included in this second installment.
By the way, this is music I play on Sweeney’s GumboYaYa. (And I’d be thankful if you subscribed – Upper Right Corner )
Tommy Malone – His third solo album since the Subdudes, Poor Boy, delivers 11 more smooth tunes with Malone’s unique blend of blues and folk. A talented guitarist and songwriter (he does only one cover), Malone has a voice that’s easy to make friends with.
Nicholas Payton – Numbers is what you make of it. You could call it chill music, but it’s far too engaging to allow your mind wander. I’ll get out of the way and repeat Payton’s description: “It’s a bed of sex wrapped in 500-thread count sonic sheets.” Get that?
Fo ‘Reel – Heavy Water bounced between our blues and soul shelf this year on the strength of Johnny Neel’s funky organ and C.P. Love’s vocals. The CD really takes off for me when bandleader Mark Domizio cuts loose with his guitar, particularly on Shake N Bake.
Dr. John – The Night Tripper left nothing to chance with this tribute to the immortal one, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. Terence Blanchard, James Andrews, Nicholas Payton (see above), and Wendell Brunious supply the chops with some welcome guest vocalists contributing a diverse array of interpretations of Louis Armstrong standards. You might not like every track but you won’t ask for your money back either.
The Roamin’ Jasmine – Another talented swing jazz band forged from the busking scene of New Orleans. In its self-titled album, this merry band of six musicians at times conjure up an exotic polyphonic sound, while staying true to the NOLA tradition of strong solos and swaggering vocals.
Davis Rogan – Davis Ex Machina is distinctly a New Orleans album–and not just because its performed with journeyman NOLA musicians. Mr. Rogan is no longer a school teacher struggling from performing at night and no longer the inspiration for a character of an HBO show. But he does continue to write songs that take you deeply into his hometown, while still connecting to timely broader messages. Case in point, “Big Treezy” appears to be a rant on the dilution of the”New Orleans” he loves yet ends as an allegory for immigration. Or maybe that’s just me reading too much between the lines. You tell me.
The Soul Rebels – No new CD this year BUT this kick-ass funk, R&B, hip-hop brass band has been offering a weekly track online for free throughout the fall, including three recorded this year–a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (Week 5) , a mash up of its “Nothin But A Party”and Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” (Week 6), and a never played again arrangement of Talib Kweli’s “I Try” (Week 7). Another reason not to want winter to begin.
Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue – Gal Holiday, the alter ego of singer Vanessa Niemann, fronts a genuine country dance hall band — part honky tonk, part redneck soul and solidly swing. They’re on my list to see live next time I’m in New Orleans, meanwhile I’ll keep enjoying Last to Leave, the band’s third CD.
Kelcy Mae – What do you call an album that wraps pop, country, and blues with solid arrangements, soulful lyrics and strong vocals? Before I started my New Orleans show, I was playing Half Light frequently on my open format morning show, without knowing she was a Louisiana native. crafting music from her home in New Orleans with the able assistance of Alex McMurray and Sam Cordts.
Benny Turner – Benny’s the real thing. He’s played guitar with his brother’s band, Freddy King and he was the band leader for Marva Wright for 20 years. With his third release, Journey, Turner plays and sings quintessential blues guaranteed to satisfy the music fan on your list.
Tuba Skinny – Owl Call Blues is a testament to this street band’s ability to find archival gems and make them fresh while also producing original music that sounds old-timey. They’ve toured the world but you can still catch them busking in the Quarter.
Gregory Good – Savage Lands offers original and traditional songs in a Woody Guthrie wanderlust style that places you at the campfire with Good singing and playing guitar as if he were still a roustabout in his home state North Dakota. Now in New Orleans, his new album joins Milo Records’ growing stable of Americana and traditional folk recordings.
Sorry if you missed my interview of Rebirth Brass Band founder and sousaphone player Phil Frazier on the November 3 Gumbo YaYa show. Rebirth comes out to the Northwest next week, playing in Seattle on November 13 and Portland on November 14. Also, WWOZ is doing its pledge drive this week. Here’s why its important to support community radio.
Live music has the potential to freeze time for me–particularly cool new music. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be unique to anyone else. Just to me.
So when I stumbled into the Jazz Tent at my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 2006, I was oblivious that brass bands had undergone a major makeover. I was a couple decades behind the times. Having grown up around Dixieland jazz and watching brass bands at Mardis Gras in the 60’s, I wasn’t expecting the addition of funk, rock and R&B that the New Orleans Nightcrawlers were throwing at me from the stage. The music was unexpected, danceable and down right entertaining. I can pretty much trace my radio show and this blog to that moment in the jazz tent.
Returning home with their live album hot in my hand, I started learning more about this music which seems to have one toe in tradition and the rest of its toes in hip hop, bepop, funk, and rock.
When I got back to New Orleans later in the year, I made a point to catch Rebirth Brass Band at their home base, the Maple Leaf — which for this brass band band fan is the equivalent of a devout Catholic getting to meet the Pope in the Vatican.
I wish I could tell you first hand how this music has transformed over the years. But I wasn’t there. I can tell you that an important part of it was keeping the brass band tradition alive. Mentors like Danny Barker who formed the Fairview Baptist Marching Band were key. From that youth band, a new generation of musicians, schooled in the tradition, but open to other styles, rose up the ranks.
What do I like about this music? Just about everything.
But I’ll use Rebirth’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” from their grammy-winning CD as an example. Vincent Broussard on tenor sax applies a simple but catchy melody. Then the drummers kick in, keeping a beat but also playing around the beat in a totally engaging way. Founding band member Phil Frazier enters with the bass line on sousaphone while the other horns add depth. Broussard then takes the melody to new territory on another solo before the harmonizing horns kick in with a full breath rendition of the original melody, and I feel it right in my chest, a total uplift. There’s a give and take between the sax and the horns with the trumpet and trombone doing their own solo turns before a sort of controlled chaos breaks loose. At around the 4:20 mark, with about minute left, the band members begin to sing or sort of chant: “What goes around comes around in its time. We’re going to dance around, smoke a bong and get on down.”
Okay, so its party music. Music that definitely works best performed live, with a favorite libation nearby and some room to boogie. In fact, brass bands are designed to move, to march in parades, lead second lines and get people dancing wherever they are.
A couple of years ago, while waiting in line to eat lunch at Casamento’s, I got into a discussion with the guy ahead of me about The Soul Rebels who had just put out “Unlock Your Mind” that year. He was quite insistent that the only way to hear a New Orleans brass band is at their home base, which for the Rebels is Les Bon Temps Roule‘on Thursday nights. Given that the guy talking was David Simon, creator of Treme who has filmed a number of brass bands including the Rebels in action, I took it as sound advice. And its true. While I’ve always enjoyed catching Rebirth wherever I can (the band plays the Tractor in Ballard on November 13), I’ve had the best times with them at the Maple Leaf.
Here’s some simple tips for catching a brass band in New Orleans. Do what Simon says, catch them on their home turf if possible. Or catch them leading a second line parade (schedule). If you catch them at a club, be ready to stay up late cause if you’re lucky, the show will start by 11 p.m. Be prepared for a crowd and know that many bars still allow indoor smoking. Finally, if you’re worried about your ears, bring some ear plugs. You’ll still be able to hear them well.
You can also hear them well on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon on KAOS, 89.3 FM Olympia