It was the Fourth of July, but for those at the Thirty-One Main in Ayer, it was time for an oasis away from loud fireworks or sticky cotton candy in the hot sun.


 

It was the Fourth of July, but for those at the Thirty-One Main in Ayer, it was time for an oasis away from loud fireworks or sticky cotton candy in the hot sun.

The sun, in fact was on its way down, as the Henri Smith Trio – vocalist Henri Smith, trombone player Daniel Heath, and keyoardist Benjamin Selling -- prepared to recreate a jazz night from New Orleans, with music sauntering, jubilant, and at times melancholy.

Each song had its own story, and Smith set up each one with a tale about the song’s origins and its place in the culture of his beloved native city, where even a funeral dirge has its notes of celebration.

For Smith – one of the musicians featured in the new live music series at Thirty-One Main – singing is more than just performance.

As one who lost much during the 2005 hurricanes that devastated much of the southeast U.S. coast, he has come to New England to rebuild – and preserve New Orleans by serving as an ambassador of the city’s music, history and lore.

A new beginning

Like many of the melancholy songs of the region, it’s about sustaining loss, and staying strong.

“I was in the military, so I took it as being stationed somewhere where all the conditions weren’t favorable,” said Smith, who through friends secured an apartment in Gloucester and is rebuilding his life in the northeast – which means getting used to some pretty cold winters.

But for Smith and his fiancée, Anita, it has been a time of hope, as well as change.

Smith, who in New Orleans had worked not only as a musician but a physical education teacher for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and as a jazz radio host, saw his displacement and eventual relocation as the moment to pursue his dreams.

“I wanted to follow my passion,” said Smith, who has also played small roles in several films in a burgeoning acting career.

And if New England seems an unlikely place to pursue one’s passion as an interpreter of New Orleans standards, Smith sees it as providence. When playing with the Boston Symphony Preservation Hall Jazz band, he met Heath, another New Orleans native who, he learned, was tutored by the same instructor at Southern University.

Selling introduced himself and expressed a desire to play New Orleans style music, and Smith agreed.

“I grew up around some great people,” said Smith, who counts Fats Domino among others as friends. “People here are very receptive, because they haven’t been to New Orleans. I am an ambassador, a keeper of the flame.”

  Live tunes

Jazz musician and promoter Rick Maida of Maynard – part of the Workingman’s Jazz Duo, with Tad Hitchcock – began booking live music at the Thirty-One Main with the encouragement of owners Karen and Mark Ingle.

In addition to live music, the venue offers gourmet food and a variety of exotic desserts.

Maida performs with local musicians in addition to promoting music and organizing concert series. His 30-year music career encompasses folk, rock, blues and more, with interpretations of traditional favorites as well as original compositions.

The Workingman’s Jazz Duo plays each Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m.; various music acts perform Fridays and Saturdays, 8 to 10 p.m.

“It’s in the jazz and blues vein, and some popular music,” Maida said. “It started because the owner was referred to me as a performer. I offered my services…so far, the audience has been responsive, cheering on the musicians, singing along with the songs.”

Upcoming acts include Smith, who Maida said will perform in a return engagement; Tom Yates and Lisa Marie, Kenny Selcer and the Knuckles, and others..

Maida added, “The location is good because it’s on a main road, and there is lots of free parking, so that is going to attract business. There is the train depot, the commuter rail across the street, so people can walk in after work.”

On a pragmatic note, as it were, Maida said he hopes the concerts will draw area residents conscientious about gas prices to a venue in the local area.

“We are bringing high quality music to the towns people, so they don’t have to travel to go find it somewhere else.” Using a newly-coined slang term, he said, “They can save gas on a stay-cation.”

Thirty-One Main features live music Thursday through Saturday at Thirty-One Main, 31 Main St., Ayer. Thursdays feature the Workingman’s Jazz Duo at 7 p.m.; concerts Fridays and Saturdays held at 8 p.m. No cover. For more information, call 978-772-2233.