The jam session at Bay Burger in Sag Harbor has become a mainstay on the music scene, with its Thursday Night Live band inviting musicians from near and far to join them on the Oriental rug rolled out in the corner of the restaurant. The bar is high: this is no open-mic night. This is a core group of professional musicians, and if you want to get up there with your instrument, you best know how to play.
This core group, which started with drummer Claes Brondal and an idea, has become a trio: Peter Weiss on bass, Wayne Sabella on keyboard and Brondal.
“There’s no jam session without the house band,” Brondal says. “Since the conception of the jam, I knew there had to be a house band to provide a consistent backing for whoever wanted to come down and play.”
The house band evolved organically, from the musicians who were committed to showing up and the ones whose musical styles inspired one another and gelled together. As a result, these three have a great dynamic, with a healthy balance of structure and freedom.
“Often bands get together in the jazz world,” Brondal says, “and they play concerts without rehearsing a whole lot. People can’t afford to rehearse. The strength of a band used to be that they played a lot and toured a lot and became like family. But there are a lot of guns for hire now.”
The nice thing about the jam session, he explains, is that these three have a weekly commitment to each other, and there’s no pressure. In some ways, it’s like an open practice session where they can explore musically. And that’s a lot of fun to watch.
“The jam session is a weekly gig,” Brondal says, “playing hundreds of concerts together, and we’ve developed a very tight band that’s unusual. We become so confident in what we do that we take it out and about. We feel we have something to say.”
That’s why the Thursday Night Live Band is headed out into the world to kick off the Jazz en Plein Air series at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on Friday, May 29. This series was organized by Richard Siegler and features world-class musicians on the last Friday of each month throughout the summer.
“I wanted to acknowledge the contribution that Claes and John [Landes] have made to the jazz scene out here,” Siegler says.
The evening will be a showcase of the jam session, which means it will reflect the experience an audience would get at Bay Burger on a Thursday evening. There will be three special guests who have been committed jammers since the inception of the jam: Ada Rovatti on tenor sax, Morris Goldberg on alto sax and penny whistle, and Baron Lewis on trumpet.
“All three of these musicians have helped to propel the jam session to where it is today,” Brondal says, “quality-wise and in terms of playing and supporting the jam by showing up.”
Each of these musicians brings his/her own influences to the table. Rovatti comes from Italy, Lewis is from the U.S., and Goldberg is from South Africa.
“They each have different takes and approaches to music, and we’re trying to showcase the diversity of jazz,” Brondal says.
The hope is that, by playing at the Parrish, people who wouldn’t ordinarily witness this group will see what kind of high quality music is happening every week, for the cost of a burger or a beer. The Jam Session is a nonprofit organization, and any donations and support they receive goes back to the mission of supporting live music.
“The mission is to preserve jazz by playing it before a live audience,” Brondal says, “and for the music to reflect the culture in present day society.”
The Thursday Night Live Band will kick off the Jazz en Plein Air Series on the patio at the Parrish on Friday, May 29, from 6 to 8 p.m., and attendance is free with museum admission. parrishart.org