"I've been hearing hip-hop music since I was born." So says Trombone Shorty, the brass-playing band leader who grew up in the Tremé district of New Orleans' 6th Ward and has already amassed a Grammy nomination for his debut jazz album, Backatown. But while Shorty's second-line-style jazz chops are in fine fettle and well established, he's also very much part of the hip-hop generation -- musicians who grew up listening to the sound of rap, and are as at home interpolating a riff from Weezy as deferring to any jazz standard. So with shows in S.F. tonight (Dec. 30) and tomorrow (New Year's Eve) at the Fillmore, we checked in with Trombone Shorty and ran the rule over his rap credentials.
Throughout your career you've worked with hip-hop artists. Can you remember the first time you heard hip-hop music?
Yeah, my brother Buster [Andrews], he plays the drums with a band in New Orleans called the Lil' Rascals Brass Band and he's always been a big hip-hop fan, so I was listening to Ice Cube and N.W.A. and a whole bunch of hip-hop growing up in my house. I definitely heard hip-hop more than anything. Like, my brother would listen to it and I'd be around in the house, so he'd be in his room and I'd just catch the music and the styles that was going on.
So did you ever try and rap yourself?
No. I mean, I've tried but it was just something fun that me and my friends were doing 'cause we were inspired by the Big Tymers [Baby and Mannie Fresh] who were on Cash Money back in the day. Big Tymers were always fun and comical, and we were like, "We can do this" -- but we never did anything publicly, we just recorded some stuff for ourselves.
What was the reaction to the Big Tymers like in the city during that time?
The city still loves them and they were very famous then. The city supports its artists in New Orleans very strongly. It was inspiring seeing those guys come up and make way for the next generation.
Did you ever see Baby or Mannie Fresh around town during those days?
Yeah, 'cause I actually worked on one of the Big Tymers albums -- I think it was called Hood Rich. I got a chance to play on a track when I was younger, so I've been around them and seen them around.
How did the opportunity to play with the Big Tymers come about?
Mannie Fresh has been a fan of mine for a while, and he wanted to put some brass music on top of some tracks he was doing, and found a way to contact me. I was surprised -- I mean, I didn't know he knew who I was, but he's big into the whole New Orleans music scene and it was great to be around them and in that environment.
What was Mannie Fresh like to work with in the studio?
He's a great guy, very nice and easy, and let me do what I wanted to do on a track. At most, at times he might say, "I might want to try this or that." We've also worked together since and performed with each other live -- we have plans to get back in the studio. I mean, in New Orleans, Mannie Fresh is the king. He's the one that opened up a bunch of doors. He's a legend who's responsible for the Cash Money sound.
You've taken to covering Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" when you and your band play live. When did the idea for that come about?
Just when the song came out. I liked the song, I started playing it, and my band had all heard it before. We didn't rehearse it or anything -- we just did it one day on stage.