Q&A: Trombone Shorty Brings the New Orleans Sound to Berkeley’s UC Theatre

Jazz-funk alchemist Trombone Shorty and his backing band New Orleans Avenue visit the Bay Area’s newest concert venue, The UC Theatre, on Saturday, March 26.

Troy Andrews, who performs using the nickname Trombone Shorty, has been a multi-instrumentalist since his youth. Being brought up in a musically inclined family in a city well-known for its rich music history, he was naturally raised to be a musician.

Furthermore, Andrews grew up in the Louisiana neighborhood of Treme, which is close to the famous French Quarter. The area has been boldly labeled as “the most musical neighborhood in America’s most musical city.”

His more recent accolades include playing at The White House (three times), at the 56th Grammy Awards, at the 2015 NBA All Star Game halftime show, and starting his own philanthropic foundation, Trombone Shorty Foundation.

To preview his upcoming show in Berkeley, we interviewed Trombone Shorty, asked him about how he crafted his instrumental talents, his excitement for playing again at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival next month, and why he loves playing in San Francisco.

Win Tickets: Trombone Shorty at UC Theatre Berkeley

You started playing in brass bands at a young age. What attracted you to the trumpet and trombone?

I actually started playing when I was four. The attraction to music is just basically being born into a musical family. Half of my family are musicians and in bands in New Orleans. Just watching my older brother play and practice, and having a lot of musicians around the neighborhood. Playing when I went to school and when I came home from school. It was just natural for me to have some type of interest in music.

When did you learn to play the keys and drums?

Well you know over time, having so many instruments around the house and things, I always just taught myself to play. I always played drums from a very, very young kid. Learning the keys, I actually took classical lessons first, while I was going to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. One of my best friends is Jonathan Battise. We used to practice piano together and teach each other some thingsI just got more interested into that.

Who would you say are some of your hip-hop influences?

My hip-hop influences start with early Juvenile, the whole Cash Money records with Lil’ Wayne, Master P, and some of the national acts not from here. Drake, Jay Z. Different people. Mystikal. All of those type of people.

Do your cheeks ever get sore and do you use any remedy to keep them fresh?

Well it’s not the cheeks. The cheeks are not affected by it. It’s the lips. First of all, trumpet and trombone, it’s very rare that you see someone playing both because of the muscle memory from the mouthpieces. It’s very difficult to do those back to back on the same show. It’s just like if you’re working out every day. Your muscles get sore and tired. It’s the same thing with the lips. The only challenge is playing trumpet and trombone for me.

What has been your most rewarding accomplishment so far in 2016?

I really don’t know. It just keeps getting better and better for me. The fact that I’m just able to play. I don’t care if it’s in front of one person, or 1,000 people, or 100,000 people. It’s always a personal reward to make music. A lot of great things have happened this year. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. It’s just been great. Everything.

Shorty Fest is your foundation’s main fundraiser that supports music education initiatives. What’s your organization’s goals this year?

The goal is always to get people to come out and support a good cause. As long as we can get people to come out and see the kids and the other New Orleans acts. That’s the success for us.

We want to continue to raise money to continue to have an impact on education here in New Orleans. That’s basically what we want to do. As long as people come out and support a great cause for the youngsters here. We want to continue to make this program strong and have the academy stay around for a long time so we can make sure kids in New Orleans have a great foundation for learning.

What are you looking forward to about Jazz Fest this year?

What I look forward to about Jazz Fest is basically being able to be home during that time and also just catching up with a bunch my friends that I run into on the road. In Europe or Japan, wherever that may be. Also catching a lot of great acts throughout town. We normally try not to book too many shows out of town during Jazz Fest, so we can enjoy the festival as well. Go out and be a regular festival-goer, and see the acts on our own.

What do you enjoy most about visiting San Francisco Bay Area?

Well you know, it’s really crazy because the feeling I get at home in New Orleans, when I’m playing for the people that really truly appreciate the music, is the same feeling probably I get in San Francisco. It feels like I’m at home when I play. I can’t really put it into words of what it was that felt so different about this place and other places we play—it always just feels like I’m at home. San Francisco, to me, is like a sister city to New Orleans emotionally.

Written by Carlos Olin Montalvo

Follow me @carlosolin