New Orleans band brings jazz, funk flavor to town

Kelly Silva

— Although the 35-year-old vocalist and Hammond B-3 organ player of Papa Grows Funk isn’t ready to retire anytime soon, John Gros said he’s not willing to drive a van across the country his entire music career either.

Gros sees two visions: to write, record and play music that follows the history of New Orleans music and to retire with a nice pension fund.

“It would be the biggest honor to go to my grave being among that list of musicians,” Gros said of Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Fats Domino, the Neville Brothers and the Meters. “And I can’t drive a van across the country forever.”

Gros said the creative process of being a musician is ingrained in him, but looking to music as a job requires a vision through an unfamiliar set of goggles.

“I never learned management or marketing before but I learned so that I could be a musician. Music comes more naturally, but you learn (the business aspects) because you have to,” Gros said.

Drum and bass usually are considered essential for an instrumental funk band to begin its legacy in the music world.

But when one such band pairs with a saxophone, a Hammond B-3 organ and a keyboard, music lovers find Papa Grows Funk’s jazz and funk flavor with a soulful New Orleans brotherhood.

Although the New Orleans jam band scene keeps Papa Grows Funk in a friendly competition with similar-sounding bands, the “godchild” of the Meters has found a comfortable niche at the Maple Leaf Bar and has begun to raise the hair on the arms of college students searching for another jam band to groove to.

“That’s kind of the way the New Orleans music scene goes,” Gros said of jumping around to different bands. “We have fun playing with other bands because when we come together, we all bring something different.”

Whether it’s a funk gig one night or an R&B gig another night, Gros said a musical personality spreads through the streets of New Orleans just as quickly as the Cajun flavor.

And without a doubt, the Meters is the band’s greatest influence next to playing with friends in the Funky Meters, of course. Gros said the Meters was a band that began the New Orleans jazz and funk styles typical of that region. When the band split, the Funky Meters began playing their same style.

“They wrote the book. They’re the kings of it. There would be no Galactic and Papa Grows Funk if it weren’t for them,” Gros said. “They are the school we come from, but we’re a more modern version with rock influences.”

Unlike many jam or funk bands around the country nowadays, Gros said he thinks Papa Grows Funk is unique because of their close relationships with legendary New Orleans musicians.

Nearly two years ago, Gros gathered some old and new friends to play straight New Orleans funk. He wasn’t looking for spaced-out jams or psychedelic electronics, but a sound of style that rang through the dark streets as tourists and locals walked the French Quarter.

“We were just five creative guys who threw it all out on the table. (Funk) is what we do best,” Gros said.

Papa Grows Funk’s debut CD, “Doin’ It,” released a year ago, is just a stepping stone for a band with a bigger vision.

Gros said he would add more vocals to the next album, but he thinks “Doin’ It” is a satisfactory representation of what Papa Grows Funk is all about.

Papa Grows Funk is Dave Russell Batiste Jr. of the Funky Meters and the group George Porter Jr. on drums, Gros of George Porter Jr. on Hammond B-3 organ and vocals, June Yamagishi of Wild Magnolias on guitar, Jason Mingledorff of Galactic on saxophone and Marc Pero of Smilin’ Myron on bass.

The band claims their easy listening yet groovy style has awarded them sold-out shows in New York and San Francisco and a place on stage for the last day of the 2002 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Papa Grows Funk will return to New Orleans just in time for the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras from their Colorado “run” after shows on the Front Range.

“All all of us do is music, but it costs a lot of money and unless we generate it ,” Gros said of three-month long tours.

Papa Grows Funk stops in the Rocky Mountains for their first Colorado run. Other dates and places include a Friday show at Sherpa and Yeti’s in Breckenridge, a Saturday show at Club 8150 in Vail and a Wednesday show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.

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