NITTY GRITTY DETAILS
- Title: Trombone Shorty
- Author: Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
- Illustrator: Bryan Collier
- Awards: Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King
Growing up in New Orleans surrounded by musicians, Troy Andrews is a passionate musician. Earning the nickname “Trombone Shorty,” Andrews would walk around the neighborhood at the young age of four with his instrument taller then him, playing for all to hear. Supporting hard work and practice, Andrews states, “I knew that if I just kept playing, good things would happen to me. I felt it in my bones.” And he has certainly earned good things: a member of Lenny Kravitz’s band by the age of 19, Grammy performer, Eric Clapton and B.B. King are comrades, and he performed for President Obama for a Black History Month celebration. An advocate of New Orleans and its unique music style, Andrews created the Trombone Shorty Foundation and the Trombone Shorty Music Academy in an effort to preserve New Orleans’s one of a kind sound. Trombone Shorty is his only novel, and reflects his passion for New Orleans and its people.
Here is a video of “Trombone Shorty” playing with Wynton Marsalis (trumpet and band leader) and Wycliffe Gordon (Sousaphone) when he was only thirteen (his solo starts at about 1:30):
Stunning illustrations by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier, Trombone Shorty is the autobiographical story of Troy Andrews, his music, and most importantly, his hometown New Orleans. Immediately establishing the setting of New Orleans, Andrews identifies the vernacular used between friends: Where y’at?
Growing up in a home and town filled with music, young Andrews uses whatever he can find to make instruments so he can join in: pencils for drumsticks, boxes for drums. Enjoying the festivities of Mardi Gras, Andrews reveals his love of brass bands, particularly the tuba “…which rested over the musician’s head like an elephant’s trunk.”
Finding a “broken trombone that looked too beaten up to make music anymore,” Andrews discovers a passion that fuels him through the day and even brings him into the night as he would fall asleep holding the trombone. His big brother, James, notices him playing the instrument that’s twice his size and calls him “Trombone Shorty.” The name stuck!
Attending the highly regarded New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Andrews and his mom have the opportunity to watch Bo Diddley perform. Unwilling to be parted from his instrument, Andrews actually begins to play along with Bo Diddley, prompting Diddley to stop his performance and invite the unknown player to the stage. Imagine his shock when it was little “Trombone Shorty!”
The book comes full circle with Andrews growing to become a renowned trombone player who returns to New Orleans as often as possible to play, to walk the streets of New Orleans, and to play music with the kids of his hometown.
Some goodies are added at the end: An Author’s Note with wonderful details and pictures of Troy Andrews’s life, Illustrator’s Note detailing Bryan Collier’s artistic choices and mediums, and information about The Trombone Shorty Foundation.
- Picture Book
While the illustrations immediately captured me, it took me a few pages to get into the writing. As Andrews tries to show not tell the reader about New Orleans it comes across as clunky and disjointed, to me. He seems to have found his rhythm about halfway through as he settles into the narrative of him discovering the trombone.
His writing is brought to life with some figurative language, particularly the simile used to describe the tuba:
“…which rested over the musician’s head like an elephant’s trunk.”
TEACHING & LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
Trombone Shorty provides an opportunity for mini-lessons about writing, particularly showing versus telling. It would be interesting to read the story without the pictures – is it as powerful or engaging?
Another lesson could be about author’s craft, particularly choosing small moments rather than the entire story. Andrews has had (and continues to have!) an incredible musical career – why do students think he chose to focus on this part of his life? Why not talk about the first time he played professionally? How does this story reflect his love for the city of New Orleans?
Thematically, the focus on hard work, practice, and passion, Trombone Shorty could help inspire students to keep going or to get going! Anyone doing the Google Hour or passion projects would do well to kick the unit off with this book!
WORDS OF CAUTION
No words of caution, go for it!
All of the characters in Trombone Shorty are African American with the exception of the audience at the Bo Diddley concert. The characters are individuals, not representative of an entire culture, and they have their own distinctive characteristics. For example, James, Andrews’s big brother, is a role model who gifts his kid brother with his nickname, welcomes “Trombone Shorty” into his band, and is a supportive sibling.
There are several cultures that jump out: African American culture, poor culture, and the regional culture of New Orleans. Poor culture is lightly referred to as the narrator states that people in his area didn’t have a lot of money and they made instruments out of whatever they could. At the same time they are all well-dressed and eat delicious gumbo. By showing the creativity and tenacious nature of poverty and pairing it with the care and love of family and community, the author provides insight into this culture.
The rich culture of New Orleans is a bit simplified in that Mardi Gras and music are the only aspects explored (although those are two big elements of New Orleans culture). However, the pictures and illustrations beautifully depict the vibrancy of New Orleans and adds a layer that the narrative misses.
When reading a book that showcases a minority as being poor, the reader can be left with a bad taste as they struggle to sift through the reading: Was it a stereotype? Was it racist? Or was it something else? Trombone Shorty doesn’t leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth even though the African American characters are all poor. Instead, this book highlights the fact that for Troy Andrews, being poor didn’t hold him back from going after his dreams. His family and neighborhood is supportive, he has a gift that he hones and refines, and he is tenacious.