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It's a recent Friday, the second and final weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival held this past April. Although it's only afternoon, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews has already sat in with his cousin Glen David Andrews and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Later on, he'll headline way past midnight at the famed Big Easy venue Tipitina's. His schedule has been similar through the week — heralded as one of NOLA's brightest musical hopes, 23-year-old Andrews is very much in demand.
The trombonist, trumpeter, rapper, singer, songwriter, and bandleader has pioneered a fresh New Orleans sound: a vigorous fusion of hard rock, fat funk, traditional jazz, and old-school hip-hop. In his native Crescent City, he is a genuine star, literally the face of the city's music scene — his portrait adorns the official New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Congo Square poster.
It's a big deal in a city with such a rich musical heritage; past musicians depicted on the poster have included bluesman Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and jazz great Kermit Ruffins. "I am the youngest person by like 18 years [to appear on the poster]," Andrews says by phone. "When they called me, I was like, 'Is this a joke?' I thought you had to be older. I have been working hard to accomplish this 15 years from now. I'm really honored."
Andrews grew up in the predominantly African-American Tremé neighborhood in the French Quarter. He studied jazz at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the same school that prepared Wynton and Branford Marsalis as well as Harry Connick Jr. for stardom. He proved a preternaturally gifted student, and in 2005, Lenny Kravitz selected Andrews to join his horn section for a world tour that included dates with Aerosmith.
That's when Andrews had his epiphany. "I had played with country, bluegrass, jazz, hip-hop acts, covered all that," he says. "But when I got with my uncle Lenny, I thought, 'This is where I want to be.'" He returned to New Orleans and went from leading second-line jazz bands and barely speaking on stage to singing, dancing, and fronting a group that produced that explosive, ebullient amalgam he performs today. "I call it," he says, "super funk-rock."