When Trombone Shorty closes the Acura Stage today, how do the musicians know where he wants to go?

trombone shorty photo
Trombone Shorty

Without any fanfare, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue have stepped into Jazz Fest's festival-closing slot on the Acura Stage once occupied by The Neville Brothers. This will be his third year in a row closing it out, and he'll do so this year following friend and mentor Lenny Kravitz. Earlier this week, I wrote a story for The New Orleans Advocate on Shorty and the Trombone Shorty Foundation, and during our interview, we talked about stagecraft--a fascination of mine--as well as the foundation. Here's part of that conversation.

I've seen you do very different sets in front of different audiences while playing the same songs. How does that happen?

I tell them, We're going to play this a little more rock 'n' roll. Same songs. And we have songs in our set so we can put together a full soul/funk set with our original material, or we can put together a rock set. Or sometimes we play a theater, and if it's seated we tend to play longer solos with more musicianship.

I tell the band one word and they change the music up. Same structure, but things happen. It's hard to explain because it's all natural, but I give a look or one word and they know what we're doing.

Is always looking toward the audience something you picked up from your time with Lenny?

That's just him, but I did enhance when I was with him. He doesn't do too much directing because they're so tight. I'm always looking at the audience when I'm directing to the band. I want them to know what's going on, but I don't want to leave the audience.

How much are you directing traffic onstage that isn't obvious to the audience?

A lot. About 100 percent. If you ever watch me, my elbows are speaking to the band. If I've got the trumpet and I've got my hand behind my back, they know what I'm saying without me looking at them. My horn may go in the air and--it's crazy, but they've become so used to watching me that one time I had to sneeze and I went to wipe my face and they stopped. [laughs] Right then and there, within one bar, my hand went up and I said, "Two!" and we went right back in. Everybody started smiling and laughing, but yeah, I'm directing a lot.