Walking into Bay Burger on a Thursday night, you might not know what hit you.
Bay Burger may look like a casual burger joint on the side of the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Sag Harbor, but on Thursday nights for the past seven years, this joint has been jumpin’. Some of the greatest jazz musicians alive today have walked through the doors and made audiences swoon while downing pitchers of beer and grass-fed beef burgers. One of the most remarkable things about the jam session is you just never know who’s going to walk in the door.
The Thursday Night Live Band is comprises founder and drummer Claes Brondal, stand-up bass player Peter Martin Weiss and Wayne Sabella on piano. Then there are the regulars: trumpet players and saxophonists, pianists and guitarists, whose musicianship has grown under the simultaneously playful and professional vibe of the jam session. And finally, the superstars: people like Morris Goldberg on sax, who’s toured with Paul Simon but makes it a point to come to Bay Burger on Thursday nights regularly.
The idea for the jam session was really born when Joe Tremblay, who owns Bay Burger with his wife Liza and father-in-law John Landes, was still in college.
“Having gone to school in New Orleans,” Tremblay says, “where live music just pours out of almost every restaurant in town, I was interested in having live music be a part of the restaurant.”
Landes, who is passionate about public access to live music, collaborated with Brondal to create a vision for the music in the space.
“We’ve created magic in the sense of a mutual feeling between the musicians and the audience,” Brondal says. “The jam session is not pretentious. We try to create a space that musicians can create without fear. If you remove the element of fear, then there is much more room to create.”
The jam has grown over the years, so now it is a staple in people’s weeks and the faces you’ll see in the audience are familiar. Even in the depths of February, there’s a light on in Sag Harbor on Thursday nights, a place you can go and find community.
As the summer heats up, the jam becomes a hot ticket, and you’ll see cars lining the Bridge-Sag Turnpike well before the start time of 7 p.m.—so people can get their seats.
“It’s grown organically over the years,” says Tremblay, largely due to the vision and efforts of Landes and Brondal. But it’s also been shaped by the community and the character of the musicians who happen to live out here.”
The people of Bay Burger offered the space, and the Jam Session was clearly something the community was hungry for.
“So many of the great musicians who play just showed up one night and keep coming back,” Tremblay says. “They steer the tone as much as we do as organizers. We didn’t set out for this to be strictly jazz, but it worked out to be what works best in the space and what the market responded to.”
Perhaps the most important thing that the jam session has created in Sag Harbor and on the East End is an outlet for people to casually gather. Music brings people together as much as good food and drink, and they all mingle in the easy atmosphere at Bay Burger.
“One of the best things about Thursday night jazz,” Tremblay says, “is that it’s given us a reputation as an establishment that’s connected to the community, and that is really important to a lot of people who live here.”
The Jam Session takes place every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Bay Burger on the Bridge-Sag Turnpike in Sag Harbor. Special guests are lined up throughout the series, and musicians are invited to bring their instrument and join in. Donations are appreciated. thejamsession.org.