Hurricane Katrina fragmented the New Orleans music scene, but after the storm passed, the waters receded, and the devastation was surveyed, "Papa" John Gros made a commitment to his band, Papa Grows Funk, to keep its funky New Orleans music pumping
I just made a commitment to everybody," Gros said. "If everybody is in, I am putting the band to work. I am going back to New Orleans. That is home, that's all I really know. We're a New Orleans band. If we are going to be a New Orleans band we are going to be in New Orleans."
The band said yes, and it hasn't looked back since. The essence of Papa Grows Funk is built upon the rich musical tradition of the Crescent City, where musicians flow in and out of local haunts, vilified by the anything goes, collaborative musical environment.
Papa Grows Funk developed from a series of Monday night jam sessions helmed by Gros at New Orleans' Maple Leaf beginning in 2000. Gros would invite some friends down to play, and the impromptu jams became a common bond for a handful of musicians, including guitarist June Yamagichi, sax player Jason Mingledorff, bassist Marc Pero and drummer Jeffery "Jellybean" Alex-ander, who now make up Papa Grows Funk.
After about six months, the phone began ringing, with callers seeking to book the quintet known for its New Orleans roots style and loose, innovative approach. Since then, Papa Grows Funk has wowed crowds across the United States, Europe and Japan. Each calender year is marked by approximately 200 performances by the band, and they have ramped up touring, playing nearly three times as many gigs than they were prior to the storm.
Gros said that coming off of Jazzfest in 2005 was one of the peaks for the band. It's summer tour culminated with a successful month in Japan, from which the band returned home in a good financial situation raring to hit the road that fall and preparing to enter the studio to record its third studio release, a follow up to 2003's acclaimed sophomore album, Shakin.' As soon as the members could get there, the bandreconvened in New Orleans. It has only been recently, Gros said, that Papa Grows Funk has beenable to regain the momentum it was experiencing in the pre-Katrina months. It released a live album this year, culled from three performances before Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Entitled Live at the Leaf, the live offering boasts 72-minutes of Papa Grows Funk in their birthplace: The Maple Leaf. The quintet is also preparing to enter the studio to lay down a new album, one that Gros said will include some road-worn numbers and some new compositions.
In the mean time, he is confident that their home, New Orleans, and the music industry that has become its calling card, will recover. However, Gros' concerns lie in the future. "Our school system has always been in shambles," he said. "Now it is non-existent. The kids that come up and go hang out in the French Quarter and listen to the musicians there, the kids in the young brass bands .... All these families are now out of New Orleans. We're fine right now, but what's going to happen in 10 years? Where's the next generation ofmusicians going to come from?" Papa Grows Funk plans to continue the to keep the legacy of New Orleans alive well into the future, and will inspire the future of New Orleans music in the process.