You’re going to want to know who Trombone Shorty is—just like Bo Diddley did.
During his performance at the 1990 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Diddley heard a horn in the crowd. “Who’s that playing out there?” he asked the audience.
“Everyone started pointing, but Bo Diddley couldn’t see me because I was the smallest one in the place! So my mom held me up in the air and said, ‘That’s my son, Trombone Shorty!’ ” writes Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews in Trombone Shorty (ages 4-8), illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Bryan Collier.
At just four-and-a-half years old, the pint-sized musician from New Orleans’s Tremé neighborhood was invited onstage to play with Diddley.
“I took that trombone everywhere I went and never stopped playing. I was so small that sometimes I fell right over to the ground because it was so heavy. But I always got back up, and I learned to hold it up high,” writes Andrews, who “practiced day and night.”
He formed his first band at age six, and joined Lenny Kravitz on tour at 19. He has since performed with U2, Green Day, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Prince. His current band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, plays 200-250 shows a year worldwide.
Once Collier knew who Andrews was, he wanted to help share his story.
“Growing up I didn’t hardly see any books that looked like me,” says Collier, noting the continuing dearth of children’s literature featuring African-American characters. “I had The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Whistle for Willie, and those are my favorite books to this day, but I think there are more stories to be told and more faces to be seen. So it’s my task and my charge to seek out unique stories that show us in many different facets.”
Andrews inspired Collier with his palpable love of music, love of sharing it with others, and legendary success.
“His career is like a hot air balloon: It’s like when you see one in the sky, you can hardly believe it’s there. It just shocks you, you know? You can’t imagine how large it is until you see it close up, and then it’s like, Wow! And it floats so delicately, too. That’s a metaphor for his music as well,” says Collier, who depicts Andrews ascending in a colorful balloon powered by the blazing sound of his trombone in Trombone Shorty’s later pages.
Collier ably captures the intangibles of Andrews’s New Orleans: the swirling sounds of music in the streets, the smell of shrimp gumbo in the Andrews kitchen. It’s all done in his signature style, watercolor painting combined with collage.
“Seeing the ideas come to life was unbelievable,” Andrews says of the illustration process. “There’s a picture in the book of me and my friends, and we were standing outside of my old house in Tremé—it really brought me back to that moment. Everything [Bryan drew] was fantastic. I was blown away by the whole book.
One gorgeous two-page spread in shades of blue shows the young man asleep beside his trombone, overlaid with CD shapes evoking music and dreams. While writing a children’s book was not among Andrews’ early dreams, the experience is one he would suggest to all musicians.
“I’m pretty sure there are going to be some kids reading this book who never heard of me, never heard this type of music—might not even know what a trombone is. To get introduced to some things that could spark some interest in them to become musicians, producers, or even illustrators, whatever it may be, is a great way to have a positive impact,” he says.
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.