Nature or nurture?
Trombone Shorty’s talent blows that question down the Mississippi and out over the Gulf. Whatever is in his genes has been honed on the streets of Treme in New Orleans.
Born Troy Andrews, he is the grandson of R&B singer Jessie Hill, the brother of trumpeter James “12” Andrews; and the cousin of trombonist Glen David Andrews, of Rebirth Brass Band snare drummer Derrick Tabb and of trumpeter Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill of the Treme Funktet.
He started playing trombone when the instrument was way bigger than he was — as early photos attest, including a shot of him amazing Bo Diddley, at age 4. Trombone Shorty became a bandleader at age 6, but he also played with the Stooges Brass Band while attending the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. He recorded his first album (of 10 independent releases) at 16, and went on tour with Lenny Kravitz at 19, just before Hurricane Katrina.
Appearances with two different groups on the Katrina benefit album “Sing Me Back Home” aligned his growing reputation with the powerful theme of homecoming and revival; and he played with U2 and Green Day at the re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome for an NFL Monday Night Football game in 2006.
Topping hometown polls and national charts with his three major label albums — “Backatown,” 2010; “For True,” 2011 and “Say That to Say This,” last year — he has played at the White House and other high-prestige venues, including Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, in six episodes of HBO’s “Treme” series and on many other TV shows. And last year, he played his hometown’s top gig: He closed Jazz Fest in early May on its (SPAC-sized) Acura Stage — the honored spot long held by the Neville Brothers.
He didn’t play any of the new songs from “Say That to Say This” (released in September, produced by Raphael Saadiq), but won major kudos from fans and Jazz Fest impresario Quint Davis: “The music is in good hands.”
He’s a hometown hero for another good reason, too: His Trombone Shorty Foundation helps preserve the New Orleans musical tradition by providing instruments to young players, working with Tulane University and other partners.
On Sunday, Trombone Shorty leads his Orleans Avenue band into The Egg’s (larger) Hart Theater. Formed in 2009, Orleans Avenue — bassist Mike Ballard, baritone sax man Dan Oestreicher, tenor sax man Tim McFatter, guitarist Mike Murano and Trombone Shorty singing and playing both trumpet and trombone — makes a huge sound.
When they play in New Orleans, their numbers often swell to fill the stage because everybody wants to play with Trombone Shorty. When they swap instruments in mid-song, the groove rolls on like a big parade.
Shorty himself has tremendous chops — he’ll show off licks at The Egg like you’ve never seen before; often abandoning the trademark glides from note to note of most trombonists for a more staccato, trumpet-like attack.
But his greatest talent is leading a band, back into tradition, forward into the future where brass band music, jazz, funk and R&B lock a groove and swing it down the street. Show time for Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue on Sunday at The Egg is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $39.50, $34.50 and $29.50. 473-1845 www.theegg.org.
Silly or serious? Cheryl Wheeler’s talent makes the answers yes and yes.
Wheeler wheels from humor to high emotional clarity at will. Laugh-out-loud, self-deprecating, trend-skewering wit hits your funny bone hard in one song and deep pathos pulls tears in the next.
Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Wheeler is a longtime area favorite. She returns to the Eighth Step at Proctors GE Theater on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $26, advance; $28 at the door; $35 front and center. 434-1703 or 346-6204 www.eighthstep.org www.proctors.org.
Tough call for folk fans: A Place for Folk presents one of its strongest offerings on Friday, at 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady (1221 Wendell Ave.). Keyboardist Rob Ritchie and guitarists-and-bass-players Al Parrish and Steve Ritchie played together in the well-traveled Canadian combo Tanglefoot; adding percussionist Beaker Granger, they now play as RPR.
The RPR guys worked out harmonies and instrumental blends, stories and shtick in countless Tanglefoot gigs. Honing their sound to its core, they have refreshed their vision and their energies.
Show time for RPR at A Place for Folk is 8 p.m. on Friday. Admission is $18. 377-0002 www.aplaceforfolk.org.
As precocious as Trombone Shorty, singer-songwriter Jes Hudak released her first album at 9 and starred in Caffe Lena Open Mic nights by 13. She returns on Friday to Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, her hometown) in an 8 p.m. show. Hudak makes everything from folk to rock to hip-hop — and really well. Admission is $16, advance; $18 at the door. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org.
Robin & Linda Williams have played Caffe Lena since before Jes Hudak was born, making high-integrity, low-pressure acoustic country music ringing with authenticity and smarts. They return to the Caffe on Sunday with their Fine Group: multi-instrumentalists Jim Watson and Chris Brashear. Like Wheeler, they’ve written hits for other artists, but shine brightest singing their tunes themselves, as on “Back 40” — a mix of classics including covers. Please note: Show time is 3 p.m. Admission is $25, advance; $27 at the door.
Soul woman Bettye LaVette sings on Sunday at Club Helsinki (405 Columbia St., Hudson), riding the huge wave of a comeback, encore or second act almost unparalleled in show-biz history.
After a top 10 hit at 16 with “My Man — He’s a Loving Man,” she disappeared from the big time; re-emerging to tremendous acclaim in 2003 and simply exploding onstage and on record ever since then. Show time for Bettye LaVette is 9 p.m. on Saturday at Club Helsinki. Admission is $45, advance; $50 on Saturday. 828-4800 www.helsinkihudson.com.
The Iron Horse (20 Center St., Northampton, Mass.) presents the all-star Lou Reed tribute “Ride Into the Sun” tonight at 9 p.m. The large (and changeable) lineup features Mark Mulcahy, Winterpills, the Lonesome Brothers, School for the Dead and a handful more. Admission is $13. 413-586-8686 www.iheg.com.
Rodney Crowell Facebooked a classy appreciation of the late and very great Phil Everly; whom he’d persuaded to come out of retirement to harmonize on a recording. Crowell could persuade a leopard out of his spots or the stink from a skunk: Remember how he persuaded (his ex-father-in-law!) Johnny Cash to sing “I Walk the Line” a full step higher than the original? But I digress. Crowell wrote, “Phil Everly was one of the most understated and supremely inspired performers I’ve ever known. We can all be thankful that his time on earth is so well documented in song.”
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.