Created in a burger joint on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in the spring of 2009, the Jazz Jam Session will celebrate its accomplishments and internationally renowned musical guests at its first CD release party at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor next Thursday. A success by all accounts, Claes Brondal and his core Thursday Night Live Band brought not only business to a roadhouse-style restaurant, but an experience that led to more live music throughout Sag Harbor.
The Jam Session is a partnership between John Landes, an attorney, music lover, an owner of Bay Burger, and chairman of the board of Peconic Public Broadcasting, and Mr. Brondal, an accomplished Danish drummer with a dream of sharing the musical message of jazz diversity with a community of all ages and demographics.
Mr. Brondal wanted to provide a creative venue where musicians could practice their craft before a live audience, network with other musicians, and showcase their talent. The jam became an important open venue for jazz musicians, Mr. Landes said, which “means a lot.” Mr. Landes has grabbed the microphone and sang himself a few times, and he also has a guitar and a dream.
With its current house band including Bryan Campbell on guitar, Peter Martin Weiss on bass, and Mr. Brondal on drums, the Thursday Night Band’s jam has been recorded and broadcast weekly on WPPB. About 100 hours of live recorded material from their weekly two-hour shows has resulted in the CD “Live On Thursday Nights.”
Aiming for a mix of special guests and regular performers whose styles varied from Latin jazz to funk, the task of choosing tracks was not a simple endeavor. Two of the tracks were recorded at a benefit concert for Bay Street Theatre that featured the All That Jazz All Star Super band, which was also born out of the Jam Sessions.
Mr. Brondal is responsible for bringing in master musicians who join the core band’s guitar, bass, drums, and almost always a piano. As word spread, “jammers just walked in the door,” said Mr. Landes last Thursday. They included Bernard Purdie, who “stopped by this summer.” Mr. Landes said the unexpected performance from the man who played drums with Ringo Starr on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” is part of the excitement of the jam.
Special guests also include Morris Goldberg, who played on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, Randy Brecker, a multi-Grammy Award-winning composer and musician, and Dick Behrke, who has arranged for Bobby Darin, known for playing with a white glove. Many other acclaimed musicians have graced the restaurant and are on the CD, too. Several are expected at the release party.
Despite its esteemed guests and several calls for reservations, the Jam Session is not stuffy in the least. Performances must be family-friendly, because the “happiest moments are when kids dance,” Mr. Landes said. His grandson, Leo, has been coming for the two years since he was born, and Mr. Brondal’s son is in attendance weekly as well, soon to be joined by his new brother, who is just a few weeks old.
With more of a casual, party atmosphere than the usual jazz concert, there is food available from Bay Burger’s menu and “Nobody is stuck to a table,” Mr. Landes said. On warm days the crowd spills out onto an outdoor patio, with no complaints from the next-door neighbors, Dale Haubrich and Bette Lacina, owners of the Under the Willow Organics farm.
Since Bay Burger closes down for four months in the winter, Mr. Landes happily supports the Jam Session’s move to other local venues during that time, which have included the Bay Street Theatre lobby and Page at 63 Main. “It’s good for the village,” he said.
Before the Jam Session, Mr. Landes explained, Sag Harbor had essentially shut down live music. He contributed his legal expertise to the creation of a music ordinance a few years ago, he said, after it was demonstrated how live music could be done in an “elegant way” in a restaurant.
The Jam Session’s success and vibe also inspired Kelly Connaughton to start up the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, Mr. Landes said, which is now held annually in the village at the end of September. The jam also fosters young musicians, he said, and gives them exposure.
“Cool, hip tunes and good energy” can be expected from the CD, according to Mr. Brondal. It includes six cuts, each about 10 minutes long, taken from the live radio recordings. It is “well-produced,” Mr. Landes said, by himself, Mr. Brondal, and George Howard, the sound engineer and owner of Plus Nine Productions, who recorded the live sessions and then engineered the tracks at his Rockin’ Horse Studios.
“Live music will never go away,” Mr. Brondal said. His favorite part of all of his music endeavors is the live performance and the emotional connection he feels with the audience and the other musicians. When not on stage, he teaches drumming clinics to high school students, among them a Roots and Rhythm workshop that focuses on music and drumming history, and Rhythmology, the study of life and rhythm. He says on his Web site that he seeks to encourage students to “pursue passions of their own, and experience the power of submerging oneself 100 percent.”
Mr. Brondal also fronts the Groove Gumbo Super Band, an eclectic band rooted in Latin beats, Nordic folk songs, jazz, and world music. Called a musical playground, the band is a collaborative of musicians formed during the Jam Session that “cooks up a diverse gumbo of musical styles.” He also plays in the All That Jazz! Super Band.
With no arrangements so far for a Jam Session this winter, Mr. Brondal said it may be the first winter since its inception that a suitable venue has not been found. “The math just didn’t add up,” he said. With no cover charge, the musicians have always played for donations only, dependent on listeners attending to support the restaurant, which pays the house band.
Next Thursday’s party will go down in the lobby of the Bay Street Theatre from 7 to 9 p.m. There will be a cash bar and complimentary catered food. The CD will be sold with hopes of many giving the gift of music to their loved ones for the holidays. “Live on Thursday Nights” will also be available at Jam Session performances, local retail shops, and cdbaby.com.