By Annette Hinkle
How do you feel like blind dates? Being fixed up by a mutual friend and thrown together with a complete stranger for a night of bonding can be a terrifying concept for many.
But if you’re a musician and a friend of Sara Nightingale’s, there’s a good chance the whole thing could result in some pretty good jam sessions.
That’s the idea, anyway, behind #blinddates/musiclab a new series Nightingale instituted last month in her Water Mill gallery in which she pairs two musical strangers for a night of the unexpected — aurally speaking.
April’s inaugural session paired Montauk’s Dalton Portella (a surfer, artist and guitar player and percussionist) with Dix Hills trumpet player Ryan Messina (who Nightingale met at a Breakwater Yacht Club sailing event). This month’s installment is Saturday, May 4 and includes Portella returning to jam with singer/songwriter Erez Kreitner who is bringing along his 10-year-old son, Jonah, to perform as well.
“The two musicians are not supposed to know anything about each other,” explains Nightingale. “I want it to be random. We have the 10-year-old coming this time — Dalton will come play with Erez on guitar and Jonah on violin.”
For Nightingale, bringing music into her gallery is a natural extension of her mission to support the East End arts community — though she admits there are naysayers who aren’t sure about the musical mash-up.
“I’m a closet musician myself,” admits Nightingale. “I was just at an artist’s studio and I said, ‘You’re going to come, right?’ And he said, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. There’s no money in it.’”
“He’s right,” adds Nightingale. “But there are two things I’m adamant about —I want it to be free for the public — no one has to donate money to the hat, I’ll pay the musicians; and I want to use my space to help artists in anyway I can.”
As it turns out, many of the artists she knows, like Portella, are also musicians. For Portella, a painter and photographer, last month’s blind date was a smashing success.
“I loved it. I thought it was a great idea from the start,” says Portella. “Like any blind date, if the other person doesn’t connect and jive it can go horribly wrong. This was a perfect fit.”
“Some of the most creative and best things will come from playing things you don’t know,” adds Portella. “When you’re forced to go outside your comfort level, you’ll learn.”
Though Portella primarily plays guitar, at one point in the session, he turned to percussion, over which Ryan Messina played his trumpet.
“I like very ethereal improvisational groove kind of music. That set up a really nice canvas for Ryan to paint on,” says Portella. “He liked the fact that my music was not very structured — I have a lot of compositions that don’t have a lot of changes — drone-like Middle Eastern music, Spanish, a little blues and all these things worked well with him.”
“He brings a melodic sense very different from my own,” he says. “And he would surprise me with different melodies, patterns and accents.”
“We will keep seeing each other,” jokes Portella.
Of course, in the musical dates Nightingale has arranged so far, it’s been only men performing. Which is perhaps why it’s appropriate that Nightingale is also opening a new show on Saturday, “Two Men,” 30 photographs from a book of the same name by John Jonas Gruen featuring images of pairs of men — some are lovers, while others have a relationship defined by a much different set of circumstances — artists, co-workers, brothers or — even fathers and sons, just like this month’s featured musicians, Erez Kreitner and young Jonah.
While Kreitner will bring along his own repertoire of original songs to perform, “The real gem of the enterprise will be my son, Jonah,” he admits.
“He’s like a violin virtuoso hiding in the body of a 10-year-old,” adds Kreitner. “He has a classical repertoire, none of which I think he’ll be displaying on Saturday. He does Irish reels, he plays in a jazz band and he has all of my stuff under his belt too.”
“It will be interesting to see what Dalton brings to the party,” he adds, expressing a willingness to be flexible — the key to any successful blind date. “If he’s doing other things and wants us to follow him, I’m fine with that.”
As a result of the willingness to go with the flow, perhaps there might be some accidental music miracles by the end of the evening.
“I don’t know what kind of miracles there will be, but if Sara keeps doing this kind of series, I could definitely see a following with a bunch of musicians,“ says Kreitner.
That’s exactly what Nightingale hopes will happen. She’s excited the series is getting off to a good start, and though she’s acting as curator (a word she hates, by the way) in selecting the players who are taking part in these early sessions, the idea is for the series to soon gain a life of its own.
“I was thinking how cool if people I don’t know — friends of friends of friends — got involved,” says Nightingale. “The reason I put the hash tag on the name is to encourage people to Tweet it and spread the word, so other random people who don’t know about it might find out and want to do it. So that random pairing happens.”
“It’s kind of like the opposite of Internet dating,” she adds. “In dating, you write down all these things that you like and the other person says ‘I have that in common.’ But in this case, I want it to be more random than that — like if you were just meeting someone at a bar.”
#blinddates/musiclab with Erez and Jonah Kreitner (a.k.a. Fiddle N Bones) and Dalton Portella is this Saturday, May 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Sara Nightingale Gallery, 688 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. John Jonas Gruen will sign copies of his book “Two Men” and also on view will be recent paintings by Gus Yero. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call 793-2256.