On Labor Day weekend, a thin slice of Manchester’s main drag became Bourbon Street, complete with gumbo, hurricanes and jazz music three nights a week wafting through Creole spice. Indian summer temperatures prevailed on a recent Friday; with the doors of N’awlins Grille were wide open, BooBoo Groove held forth.
Employing the funky hard bop style of masters like Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel, the trio moved through a spirited rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” followed by an original, “The Weather Channel Song.” They fit right in with the impressionistic paintings of jazz players adorning N’awlins Grille’s walls, drawn by co-owner Lui Vaine.
Vaine is enthused about the music in his restaurant. He’d like to launch a Wednesday open audition night.
“That way people who want to can toot their own horn,” he said with a laugh.
BooBoo Groove consists of two 23-year-old best friends, guitarist Nate Grant and bass player Zac Carr, and drummer Lucas “BooBoo” Moss, their leader and mentor. The fiftysomething Moss is determined to bring jazz to New Hampshire.
“Everywhere you go people want to play the blues. I was raised on the blues — my dad played in a blues band when I was a young’n,” said Moss, who relocated to Manchester a few years ago. “You don’t see jazz musicians in this area and I don’t know why. You see them in Boston.”
A busy BooBoo Groove calendar is helping to raise the genre’s profile. The trio is playing everywhere — weekly residencies at Portsmouth’s Dolphin Striker, Epping’s Holy Grail and new places like Sabatino’s in Derry and UNUMS in Nashua.
Moss came to New Hampshire from his hometown of Elmira, N.Y.; his daughter attends college here. A drummer since his teenage years, he quickly started sitting in with locals like Nobody’s Fault and Lisa Guyer of Mama Kicks.
“But I wanted my own band,” he said.
He and a Berklee-trained guitarist formed Just Us, but the chemistry wasn’t there.
“He would play any way he wanted to on stage, like flash guitar during a funk groove,” said Moss. “Plus, he wouldn’t come to practice …versatile, but I couldn’t use him.”
When Moss first met Grant at the Manchester Music Mill, the 23-year-old knew little about jazz.
“If I hadn’t met him I wouldn’t have found the style,” said Grant. “I never heard myself doing it; I always thought I’d be Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page.”
“When I heard Nate play I thought he could learn some things,” said Moss.
Though a fan of Sublime’s Eric Wilson and his dominating bass sound, Carr only played casually. Then he enrolled at the University of Miami and found himself surrounded by ace musicians.
“It’s well known for jazz, and I got thrown in a situation where the best jazz players of my generation were friends,” said Carr.
He dug into Motown legend James Jameson and Jaco Pastorius, and his style changed. Moss is a professorial figure to the two best friends, teaching them discipline along with lessons about life in the music business. Mostly, he counsels them on what to avoid.
“I got two young guys willing to come and play, and my heart’s still in it,” said Moss, peeking out from under a black Capone’s golf cap. “I talk to them about all the music stuff I’ve been through. I’d rather deal with someone who’s not really seasoned. People like that can be good, and then not last.”