Jazz Fest has been a vital New Orleans tradition for nearly half a century, but in the last four years, a festival within the festival has sprouted up and started capturing the attention of fans and musicians alike: The Treme Threauxdown started by one of the city’s biggest musical stars, Trombone Shorty.
“It started off as a casual affair,” says Shorty, whose most recent album, “Parking Lot Symphony,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz Chart.
Shorty’s real name is Troy Andrews, and he has gained international acclaim for his trombone and trumpet virtuosity, his songwriting, and his ability to blend traditional New Orleans styles with rock, funk, soul, and hip-hop. At 20, he performed with U2 and Green Day in the Superdome to mark the New Orleans Saints’ return home after Hurricane Katrina; he has since played everywhere from the White House for President Barack Obama to Eastern Europe, where he and his band, Orleans Avenue, spent part of this July opening for the Rolling Stones.
“I tour so much I never really get to play at home anymore except at Jazz Fest, so I invited friends from the city and friends in town from other places to jam out,” says Andrews. “It was that simple. After the first year it grew organically, with musicians saying, ‘Hey man, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come to your thing and jam.’ ”
The Threauxdown has drawn in local legends like Allen Toussaint, Jon Batiste, Kermit Ruffins, Terence Blanchard, Soul Rebels, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Ivan Neville, but out-of-towners in for the festival have also dropped by, with the guest list ranging from Usher to Nick Jonas to Warren Haynes to Wyclef Jean.
It became so popular that Andrews decided to celebrate his hometown’s tricentennial by taking it on the road, with his Voodoo Threauxdown tour traveling to 29 cities, including a stop at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion Aug. 4.
“I want to share the music of my city,” Andrews says, adding that while it might not be as free-flowing as the Jazz Fest version, he’s confident it will maintain some of that vintage New Orleans vibe. The show features four diverse bands plus three special guests who will perform with one of the bands each night, and Andrews says, “In each city there are other people who may come out and join us.”
“It’s amazing this all got organized,” says Ben Ellman, who plays sax with Galactic, which mixes funk, jazz, electronic, and hip-hop sounds.
Ben Jaffe, creative director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, one of the bands on the tour, credits Andrews for putting together a “historic” lineup.
“Nothing has ever been done on this scale before,” he says. “It’s like a small Jazz Fest on tour. It’s an expression of what is unique and beautiful about what is New Orleans — different generations coming together to celebrate the sounds and the birthday of the city. We all have our own unique sound, but we’re all the limbs of the same tree.”
“That’s what’s important, for all these cats from New Orleans to express how we feel about the city and show what we have to offer,” adds Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
Washington, a blues guitarist, is one of the special guests, along with percussionist Cyril Neville of Meters and Neville Brothers fame and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who cofounded the Rebirth Brass Band and played himself on David Simon’s series “Treme.” The fourth band is the New Breed Brass Band, who Andrews says is “bringing a modern take and great fire to the brass band sound I grew up playing.”
These musicians are already all connected, like a sprawling family, either symbolically or literally. Washington is Andrews’s cousin, and New Breed is filled with Andrews’s nephews and younger cousins. Neville has been a fixture in New Orleans since the 1970s and has recorded with Shorty and with Ruffins. Ellman produced the first two Trombone Shorty albums. Jaffe played in his first band with Andrews’s big brother James and says, “I remember Troy being born.”
“We’re so busy we only get to see each other at parades or festivals or passing each other in airports,” Jaffe says. “But we’re part of the fabric of each others’ lives.”
‘I want to share the music of my city. In each city there are other people who may come out and join us.’
Andrews says each band has its own fan base, and bringing them all together will hopefully create new audiences for everyone. But the musicians all add that having all these bands touring together for so long will also benefit the musicians in other ways. For starters, Jaffe says, they’ll keep pushing each other so nobody gets tired or complacent. “The energy from each band will inspire the others — you get us together in a room and it’ll be like fusion, it’ll create an enormous explosion.”
Ellman says he’ll be watching the others from the side of the stage every night and is sure the other artists will start influencing his sound. (He adds that while he’s definitely looking forward to the shows, “I can’t lie, I’m super-excited about the hang,” especially playing chess against members of Preservation Hall.)
Andrews, who recently bought his own studio in New Orleans so he can record more easily on those rare days he’s off the road, agrees. “The other bands’ sounds will definitely be in my ear — it’s like when you meet people from different neighborhoods and they have different words for things and then you hear them and pick them up. I’m sure I’ll hear something from the other bands and say, ‘Oh, we need to steal that and make it our own.’ ”
That’s the New Orleans way, adds Washington, who at 74 is the elder statesmen of the tour. (Neville is 69.) “It has been that way from the beginning,” he says. “It’s very important for these cats to mingle, to have the elders and the young ones coming up and then you put it all together.”
The result, Washington says, will be “a gumbo of New Orleans music.”
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Voodoo Threauxdown tour, featuring Galactic, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the New Breed Brass Band, and others.
At Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. Tickets $19-$49. www.ticketmaster.comStuart Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.