In the span of seven studio albums — the first three of which were released on the small independent label, Treme Records —Trombone Shorty has reached the pinnacle for a New Orleans musician.
Leading his 10-person band, Orleans Avenue, the trombonist/trumpeter whose real name is Troy Andrews, is widely considered to be the leading musician who is carrying forward the rich sounds, styles and heritage of New Orleans music to the rest of the world. It's a position Andrews treasures and treats with great respect.
"We come from a very magical place, and to be able to do my part and continue to add on to what the greats have done, it's a special thing," Andrews said in a phone interview. "To be able to carry that torch and bring (New Orleans music) all over the world, it's just an emotional (experience), like I carry that badge of honor in my heart. So whenever I go out and you see me, you know that I'm representing New Orleans to its fullest. And like I say, I stand on the shoulders of people who helped lift me up to that area."
Now 37, Andrews has immersed himself in the music of the Crescent City almost from the day he was born. He comes from one of the city's leading musical families, and was all of four years old when he started playing trombone. He began building his skills by playing along with the musicians in second line parades and had his own band at age six.
Along the way, Andrews was befriended and mentored by some of the city's most notable musicians, and a year after he graduated from high school in 2004, he toured with Lenny Kravitz as a featured member of Kravitz's horn section. By the end of 2005, he had released his first three albums under his Trombone Shorty name.
Andrews' blossoming talents as a musician and songwriter, meanwhile, earned him a deal with Verve Records, which released three acclaimed albums — 2010's "Backatown," 2011's "For True" and 2013's "Say That to Say This" — that propelled him onto the global stage, earned him opening slots on tours with the Foo Fighters, Hall & Oates and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and had Andrews being touted as New Orleans' next great artist as he established a robust and lively musical style that spans New Orleans jazz, funk, R&B, rock and hip-hop.
His status was further affirmed when Andrews was chosen to follow Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers as the closing act of the city's famed annual Jazz & Heritage Festival – perhaps the greatest honor a New Orleans musician can achieve.
"I'm just blessed that Quint Davis (producer and director of the festival) thought I was strong enough as a performer to be able to take over that spot," Andrews said. "We have hundreds of bands in New Orleans, and for him to think that I was ready to give me that opportunity, it's unbelievable."
As all of this has happened, Andrews' global popularity has continued to expand. His next album, 2017's "Parking Lot Symphony," went No. 1 on "Billboard" magazine's Jazz Albums chart and marked his debut under a new deal with Blue Note Records.
This brings things to "Lifted," an album on which Andrews sought to set aside some of the precision of his previous studio albums in favor of capturing more of the power and energy of a Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue live show.
"That's exactly what I was going for. I didn't play it safe," Andrews said. "We went in there and tried to get as much of the live sound that we could get in the studio while continuing to make it as tight as we possibly could."
"Lifted" achieves that goal, as Andrews and Orleans Avenue have never sounded so potent on album. The energy is apparent from the first notes of the opening track, "Come Back," which balances robust horns and an assertive beat with a smooth R&B melody. There's jazz and some Earth, Wind & Fire-ish soul on "Good Company" and "Everybody in the World," while "What It Takes," featuring a sweet guest vocal from Lauren Daigle, blends pop and soul. Meanwhile, "I'm Standing Here" (with some searing guitar from guest Gary Clark Jr.) and the title track bring gritty rock into the proceedings.
Several songs from "Lifted" figure to be included in the shows Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue play on its current tour. On recent outings, shows lasted two hours or more and Andrews said that might happen again on his current tour.
"We have so much fun on stage, we don't really feel it until we hit the last note, and our bodies are all tired and beat up," he said. "We're like, 'Oh, we didn't realize we played that long.' But you know, when the audience, when the love is there between the audience and the musicians, it's hard to keep time. We just play."