Right now Sag Harbor is the place to hear live music in the Hamptons. There’s the Singer -Song Writers evenings at Bay Street Theater, the Drag Shows and Jim Turner’s Open Mic Nights at Blue Sky on Main Street, and in the autumn the village will host it’s first, hopefully annual, American Music Festival. But all of these events followed the surprising success of the free Thursday night Jazz Jam sessions that started over a year ago at Bay Burger.
Bay Burger’s not really what one would call a traditional Jazz venue. It’s an old school burger joint on a scruffy part of the Bridge-Sag Turnpike. Despite the occasional celebrity sighting, it remains one of the few informal, inexpensive, and family friendly places to dine on the East End, and this atmosphere really jived with Jazz Jam founder, Claes Brondel’s personal philosophy about Jazz music’s potential inclusively.
“You don’t have to be educated in it to understand jazz. I want people to understand that you don’t have to be an intellectual sitting there listening quietly in your seat at these performances.” Brondal enthusiastically relates.
Brondal, who studied with drumming greats Ed Thigpen and Marcello Salazar is a certified teacher himself, who has taught in schools through out New York and the Hamptons, and it his desire to educate people about the music he loves that really inspired the live jam sessions.
“I thank the audience several times each night. They are so wonderful and appreciative, and in fact musicians play better in front of an audience. I actually promote this as a way to practice your craft in front of a live audience.” Brondal explains.
Keeping the jams inclusive may have seemed a risky proposition, but Brondal believed it was possible to keep the sessions both open and of a fairly high caliber. To ensure a basic level of professionalism, there is always a core house band comprised of Bryan Campbell on guitar, Steve Watson on upright bass, and Brondal on drums.
Brondal’s faith in keeping things loose and open has turned out to be quite inspired. Instead of squeaky notes, audiences have been privileged to hear some renowned jazz musicians for the price of a burger and coke. Morris Goldberg, perhaps best known to non-jazz aficionados as the band leader for the Rosie O’Donnell show and for playing on Paul Simon’s Graceland showed up this spring to jam, and up-coming performers include Ahmad Ali on guitar and vocals, and trombonist Bob Hovey.
Bay Burger owner Liza Tremblay (who runs the business with her husband Joe) relates “the sessions have been a hit for us right off the bat. It’s turned out to be our busiest night of the week.” In fact they are investing in more tables and chairs to accommodate the overflow. Tremblay adds, “There’s a real musical renaissance going on in Sag Harbor right now and most of the events spun off from the jam sessions. Its good to know that in some way we are a part of this.”
Brondal wants to continue to see the sessions evolve, hoping that in the future the jams will incorporate rap, hip-hop, and Latin jazz. He adds, “We advertise that we’re the only consistent jazz jam session within a 100 miles. That may or may not be true, but the fact is jazz venues are very difficult to find. Hopefully that’s changing now.”