Early in 2012, Trombone Shorty played one concert where he got so caught up watching the legendary players assembled onstage — Jeff Beck, B.B. King and Mick Jagger were among the musicians jamming with the New Orleans trombonist at the time — that he momentarily forgot where he was.
These surreal experiences have become increasingly commonplace for the non-short jazzman (he’s actually about six feet tall), who recently spoke by phone about everything from his recurring role on the HBO series “Treme” to the famous rapper who turned up at one of his band's gigs.
You got the nickname Shorty because the instrument was taller than you when you started playing. What inspired you to pick up the trombone at such an early age?
I have a really musical family. A bunch of my cousins play with the Rebirth Brass Band and Dirty Dozen Brass Band and various bands around town, and my brother James is a trumpet player. Instruments were the toys growing up in my house. It was one of those things that was part of everyday life. As time went by, my brother put a little trombone in my hand and made me his sidekick.
You've said in the past that you were born humming “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
That's what my mom told me. I don't know how true that is [laughs].
Does everyone in your family have some musical ability? Or do you have that one random accountant brother who can't even clap on beat?
[Laughs] New Orleans is really strange place. I think everyone here creates some type of music. I have some friends who don't know anything about music from a technical standpoint, but you can give them a drumstick and they'll play the most intricate rhythms just because they've grown up around it and heard it their whole life. It's a really musical city. Even when people speak to you and say your name there's a note to that. I see people at the bus stop with no headphones on just dancing for no reason. It's just that powerful.
Even the funerals are celebrations there. How much does that spirit inform your music?