The New Orleans sound runs so deep in Trombone Shorty that his family says he came into this world humming "When the Saints Go Marching In." Like most myths, there's but a kernel of truth in the tale, but the story of where his name comes from isn't hyperbole.
When he was about four years old growing up in New Orleans' Treme district, little Troy Andrews was playing in a jazz funeral. "I was standing up next to the horn and it was [taller than me] and my brother shouted out, 'Trombone Shorty!'," he tells documentary directors Eric Alan Donaldson and L. Lonnie Peralta.
Treme is the neighborhood that spawned Louis Armstrong and other great musicians, and Shorty says even as a kid he knew music would be his life.
"It's just one of those things we have that's in the air here," adds Shorty, who had a role in four episodes of the HBO series Treme. "Before I had real instruments, and before my friends and my family had real instruments," he says, "we used to have a cardboard box; we'd play snare and bass drum. And I had a Big Wheel as a tuba over my shoulder, and we'd march around with, like, 50 neighborhood kids. Then we got real instruments, and it was all over then."
Today, Shorty is known for blending classic New Orleans jazz with funk, rock and hip-hop. The charismatic horn player calls his music "supa-funk-rock," but the label isn't important. What matters is the music, that exuberant, uplifting sound that gets people on their feet and dancing.
The 26-year-old horn player was unable to be interviewed for his Sept. 19 show at the Wells Fargo Center because he was taking care of his family after Hurricane Isaac rolled across the South at the end of August. Then he was off to play a couple of dates in France.
Shorty says it's a "blessing" to earn his living by playing music. "Playing and traveling the world at the expense of my horn—my horn is my passport," he says in the documentary.
Shorty has been praised by New Orleans royalty—from the Neville Brothers to the Marsalis family—and has played with Lenny Kravitz and Allen Toussaint. Shorty's recent album, For True, includes collaborations with Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes and Kid Rock.
As good as Shorty's recorded music is, he's much better live. The longest show? "Five hours," he says. "They didn't leave, so we couldn't stop."
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue play Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the Wells Fargo Center. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $30–$45. 707.546.3600.