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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trombone Shorty and All That N.O. Funk

First of all, I am dedicating this post to my old Cal roommate. Tyler was my "trombone brother" in those carefree college days. He is back in the woodshed, working his on his trombone chops, after a successful business career. Tyler is a huge fan of Trombone Shorty; I think they have even hung out on occassion.

Yes, yes - Trombone Shorty, aka Troy Anderson. He is only 25 years old. He plays both trumpet and trombone like a man with hundreds of years of study under his belt. TS grew up in the Treme' neighborhood of New Orleans. He is a stone N.O. guy, a grad of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. He has been playing in bands since he was six years old.

TS came to Chicago last Wednesday night. Tyler flew in for the event; a group of us gathered. The Park West was full and the decible level was very high. There are six players in Shorty's band - baritone sax, tenor sax, guitar, bass and two percussionists. This band had the polish and precision that comes from playing 250 gigs a year. They provided a flawless foundation for Trombone Shorty's wild improvisations. The band also pulled a stunt durng their encore that we used to call "the Big Switch" - all the players picked up different instruments and played (Shorty on drums, the drummer on guitar, the bass player on trumpet. etc.). These guys are professionals.

Young Troy is a phenom. He is built like a welterweight boxer and dances with a boxer's masculine grace. Since I am an old trombone player, I have a deep appreciation of Shorty's towering mastery of a balky horn. Some of his excursions had me howling in amazement. His trumpet work is equally stunning - he has speed, range and power, and he also can use circular breathing to play continuously for long periods of time - a very flashy, crowd-pleasing technique. I can't think of anyone else that has conquered those two instruments so completely. I was flooded by the flow of his musical ideas.

TS is a great singer, too. His tribute to James Brown was a real eye-opener.

My main beef about the show at the Park West was the sound mix. The bass was way too heavy and devolved into an indistinct rumble that muddied up the sound of the band. Of course, I miss the days when musicians played with dynamics. The relentless volume is near-deafening and becomes stupifying after a while. And the crowd was as loud as the band.

I sound like a grumpy old man. As the t-shirt says, "If its too loud, you are too old."

I don't know if a talent like Trombone Shorty will ever cross over into the mainstream popular culture. He is certainly striving to get there.

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