Trombone Shorty, Mill and Mine, Knoxville, November 2023 (Photo by Luke Frazier)
(Today’s article is by recurring guest writer Luke Frazier, a relatively new Knoxville resident who continues to explore the city.)
Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) is a flat out multi-instrumental genius. He was a child prodigy from the musical heart of New Orleans (the Treme neighborhood), the product of a musically potent family that included his mother being a regular grand marshal of jazz funerals, a grandfather who scored a hit with “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” and a great uncle who played with Fats Domino. Dripping with this kind of Big Easy cred, little Troy played before large crowds before he grew taller than his trombone. Despite knowing about him since his Backatown album in 2010 I had never caught him live. When my wife told me he was coming to The Mill and Mine it was a hell-yes.
I lived briefly in New Orleans a long time ago and it sparked a lifetime love affair with the music of both the city and the wider Cajun and Zydeco culture. Since then I’ve attended my share of Jazz and Heritage Festivals and built a pretty good collection of Louisiana music, both popular and more esoteric. I know my Professor Longhair House Party from a Cajun Fais Do Do and my Neville Brothers from each other.
All this to say that when I go see what I label as New Orleans music I have expectations. I want to revel in Crescent City sounds, remember the dream-like St. Charles streetcar rides, nights at Tipitina’s club, and the fecund smell of the city after a downpour, as the temperature rises even higher than it was before the rain. And I was just a tad anxious I might be a bit disappointed by Trombone Shorty.
This was based on his recent recordings veering into a lot more of Troy singing and the tunes being more jazzy-pop and heavy funk. In other words, getting away from what I thought he was best at and should stick to—playing trumpet and trombone in bluesy, syncopated, foundationally New Orleans styles. I know—totally unfair. And you may be glad to know I shudder at my own arrogance (yet again) but luckily can laugh at myself too.
Because I’m here to tell you that Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue blew the roof off the joint on what was All Saints Day and spirits rose like there was no tomorrow. I, along with everyone I checked with, was rocketed to a dimension of sound experience that fills the soul with a whiff of the divine and an uncanny desire to testify to someone about something. Somebody say amen.
To try to explain the whole of it is impossible, but part of the amazing quality of the experience was the sheer professionalism of the entire band and how they conducted themselves as consummate entertainers.
There were choreographed bits among the 7 piece band and Troy held musical conversations via duets with bandmates on a rotating basis. Of note were Dan Oestreicher on the baritone sax, Pete Murano on the guitar and BJ Jackson on the tenor sax. And the way Tracci Lee sang and danced brought sweet heat and bold energy throughout. You could see the show unfolding just as it was meant to, sometimes with a nod and a wink, and everybody performing did their part and enjoyed the heck out of doing it.
First there was the campy start when the band sauntered on stage to spacy crescendos before Trombone Shorty arrived separately to the first of many roars. They immediately floored it with the title track to the Backatown album and didn’t look back. Two songs later they covered Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy the funk-sonic explosion provided notice that this band came to play and you better buckle up and pass the hot sauce.
The next two numbers (On the Way Down and Here Come the Girls) were examples of songs that on the records were fine and all, but were of the sort that left me wanting more horn and less vocal. The difference is the mojo that highly skilled and motivated musicians bring to the live stage, starting with Troy himself.
Trombone Shorty’s charisma quotient is off the chart and his strutting, jiving, and dancing combine to create joyful bursts of energy felt by all. Sustaining notes for impossibly long stretches, journeying into the audience with his sax player and wailing in the middle of the crowded floor, coaxing more and more from his band as they solo, all calibrated and calculated in the best possible way. Rather than making it impersonal, the emphasis on putting on a good show elevates and uplifts audience and band together.
The last third of the show included multiple songs from his most recent release Lifted. It seems fitting that the cover photograph for the record shows Troy being held up by his mother at a parade while playing a toy horn. His mother passed in 2021 and he has spoken of her loving support being so crucial to his success.
The show ended with the Hurricane Season and we all swirled together. We joined by bringing our individual bodies to The Mill and Mine, and left with our hearts united by the magical power of sound and showmanship.