The Big Easy to Byron Blues: Shorty is at home with Trombone
WALKIN' in New Orleans. It's just before 9pm, a few weeks into the new year.
Despite the cold - it's a tad over 10 degrees - the doors of bars and clubs are open, splashing light and music across Bourbon St in the heart of the French Quarter.
Troy Andrews, probably a little better known as Trombone Shorty, picks his way through knots of people as he heads toward Jackson Square.
"I love Nue Or-leens," he drawled quietly, looking around at the unlikely mix of neon lights and cast iron street lamps that were first lit with gas more than 200 years ago.
"I grew up here, learnt to play here," he said, still stepping lightly, heading toward the Mississippi River.
He's just left his apartment near Treme-Lafitte, the district just behind the tourist hub famed for its jazz clubs and eateries, and now dotted with strip joints as well.
Though Andrews has just turned 29, he has been touring the globe since he was a child.
But he is always drawn back to The Big Easy.
It has been good to him.
When he was three, he had been playing a full-sized trombone during Treme street parties.
By five, he had jammed with the likes of Bo Diddley.
And at eight, he had been around the world, touring and playing 'bone and horn with his big brother, James Jr.
It may have been his school summer holidays, but he was not just along for the ride.
"I was playing with the band, and we played everywhere - you name it," he said. "All over … Montreux, Monterey, Paris, Montreal … we played 'em all."
It was on those tours by the side of his brother who plays trumpet, that he learnt his chops.
When they returned home, he and three or four other pint-sized friends would hit Jackson Square to play beaten-up brass instruments and to sing and dance for the tourists.
They were special times.
"Sometimes on a good day, at 10 years old, we would make like $400 apiece," Andrews said.
"We would have to put money in our shoes, everywhere that we could think of, because our pockets were so small we couldn't really fit it in there."
And then they did what any 10-year-old boy might: bought PlayStation games.
"We still get together every now and again to jam," Andrews said. "But it doesn't happen enough."
He has a son, from a previous relationship, who lives in New Orleans with his mother.
"I try to visit as much as I can," Andrews said.
"Always away touring ... puts a lot of pressure on relationships."
Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue, barrelled through another world tour last year.
In Australia, Trombone Shorty and his band have played the Byron Bay BluesFest three times, and the Caloundra Music Festival once.
Their live shows are something to see, sweeping through audiences like tornadoes.
At the front, Andrews dances and struts, conducts and directs, sings and plays, twirling his trombone and trumpet as if they were glittering batons.
His songs, all jazz-funk and melodic hip-hop, are fast becoming the 21st century sound of New Orleans. The rhythm goes right through his life.
"I always try to get home for Christmas," he said.
"When the family gets together, it's the best. After we had finished Christmas lunch this year, we were all cleaning up and someone started beating on a pot.
"Before long, my sisters are singin' - they have great voices - and we all join in on pots and pans … all singin' a cappella. It was somethin'.
"We sang 'til we couldn't no more. Man, that's what I call a party."
In 2009, Trombone Shorty and his band brought the party to Australia for the first time, playing the Byron Bay Blues Festival.
His reputation as the world's best trombone player, one of the best trumpeters and a consummate bandleader preceded him: celebrities from Sydney and Melbourne flew in to see him live.
"I did not know that," Andrews said. He and the band have been back several times since to play BluesFest and they have done a gig at the Caloundra Music Festival.
"We got a little time to have a look around Caloundra and we even went to the beach," he said.
"It was beautiful.
"Australia's a beautiful place - you're lucky, man."
Last year, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue closed the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a prime spot that's close to the hearts of those connected with the city.
Dr John, Harry Connick Jr, Fats Domino, Wynton Marsalis and, more recently, the Neville Brothers have had the honour.
Andrews said he realised early that he wanted to play music that's a little different from traditional New Orleans fare. That's come full circle.
The jazz festival plays host to every style of music.
And Trombone Shorty, in too many ways to count, is right at the epicentre of the changes.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue will play the Byron Bay Blues Festival at Easter. For more information, go to bluesfest.com.au.