After attending a concert a few months ago at Pitman’s Freight Room in Laconia, Tom LeMieux wondered why there wasn’t a good jazz venue in his hometown. Not a restaurant with music in the background, but a place where live music was the reason people came.
“I thought, this is cool, and Concord doesn’t have one,” he said by telephone recently. “There are a lot of attorneys and other professional people that would like to hear some finer music.”
LeMieux’s reverie became the inspiration for The Purple Pit, a basement club that opens May 4 — fittingly, in a space that housed Pitchfork Records before it moved across the street. LeMieux and his musical partner Steve Guerrera will run it. The two have played together for more than 25 years.
“We’ve been friends since high school,” LeMieux says. “We formed a cover band and then an original.”
In past years, they’ve been a jazz duo. Guerrera is in another trio, while LeMieux and his three sons are in a swing group called Kid Jazz. The group has built a following playing retirement homes and park band shells; recently, they were featured on the New Hampshire Chronicle television show.
“The kids are excited about the jazz club,” LeMieux says. “That is part of the reason why I’m doing this.”
Singer Sandra Bedrosian and her trio will play opening night. LeMieux met Bedrosian when he lived in Andover, Mass., for several years before moving to Bristol 12 years ago.
“Sandra is one of our very close friends and her voice is astonishing,” LeMieux says. “Her husband is on keyboard, and they are such a great band. I wanted to make sure they were the opener.”
The journey from idea to reality didn’t take long for The Purple Pit, named after the bar where Eddie Murphy’s wilder alter ego hung out in The Nutty Professor. Upon returning from his night of jazz in the Lakes Region, LeMieux began scouting around for a location.
“We tried to run it out of a café, but the owner wasn’t interested,” he says. “Then a month ago I found this — a perfect price and spot. Now we’re in this renovation — and there’s lot of work that had to be done.”
The club debuts on a Saturday due to Bedrosian’s availability, but future shows will happen weekly on Friday nights. It’s BYOB — LeMieux was impressed with how easily that aspect was accomplished, and he thinks that letting people bring alcohol is important for the kind of crowd he hopes to attract.
“But we will have coffee and soft drinks,” he says, “and probably some kind of finger food like pretzels.”
Musical talent is lined up into early June. On Friday, May 11, local drummer and New England Conservatory professor Brooke Sofferman leads his quartet. A familiar face at Boston area jazz clubs like Scullers, Sofferman is known for intricate melodies, unique time signatures and his improvisational skills. May 18 welcomes the Paul Bourgelais Trio, featuring Bourgelais on guitar, drummer Tim Gilmore and John Hunter on bass. The group has also performed at Pitman’s Freight Room.
The guitar and clarinet combo Lex and Joe round out the month on May 25. Lex Romane and Joe Riillo play swing, R&B, with Romane vocalizing tunes from Van Morrison, Tom Waits and other contemporary songwriters. On June 1, Sofferman returns with vocalist Rebecca Cline for an evening of Latin-based material. On June 8 the Tall Granite Jazz Band brings a slice of speakeasy jazz from the 1920s to the room; the group is described as an antidote to “amorphous sonic navel-gazing.”
Many of the acts booked also appear frequently at Hermanos Cocina Mexicana. The Concord cantina is a good friend to the local music scene, with performers most every night. But it’s a decidedly different vibe; entertainment is one of many items on the menu. At the Purple Pit, LeMieux knows the performers will relish being the focus for a change.
“They like it at Hermanos, but they have to behave and there’s a lot of chatter and clanking dishes,” he says. “This is a listening room. It’s better for everyone and will attract more musicians when the spotlight is on them.”
That aspect — drawing the region’s best jazz talent — is crucial, he thinks: “We’re trying to get the most professional musicians we can, because people are paying a cover charge, so I don’t want to let anybody down.”