By Emily J. Weitz
When I first moved out to the East End full time, I feared the quiet nights of February. I was used to the endless inspiration of the city that never sleeps, and the availability of live music topped my list of concerns. But then I happened to stumble past Bay Street Theatre on a Thursday night, and the music that poured out the doors was as enticing as the best of my evenings at Small’s in the West Village. I became committed, as the Jam Session returned to its original home at Bay Burger for the spring and summer, and when it popped up at Page on Main Street last winter.
The musicians were ever-changing, the jams themselves always unique. There was something that felt intangible about it. You could hear it, you could dance, and you could feel it in your veins. But then, it was gone. Now, thanks to the first Jazz Jam CD coming out next week, we all get to hold onto that feeling, and enjoy the spontaneous collaborations again and again.
“The jams are fleeting moments,” agrees Claes Brondal, founder of the Jam Session and drummer in the Thursday Night Live Band. “That’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful music and energy and love that you’ve created, and then the moment is gone. We wanted some physical evidence… we wanted to have a record of it. Literally.”
The idea for the Jam Session itself dawned on drummer Brondal and John Landes, co-producer of the album and owner of Bay Burger, at the same time.
“We wanted a core band available to other musicians,” says Landes. “If a kid is studying jazz and they want to sit in, they can sit in with people like Randy Brecker and Morris Goldberg.”
In this way, the Jam Session has greatly influenced the lives of some young musicians, like John Ludlow, who brings his saxophone, and Max Feldschuh, who hauls in his giant vibraphone.
“Early careers have flourished locally because of the jam,” says Landes.
But the talent would hardly fall into the category of “local” or “young.” In fact, some of the most accomplished musicians in jazz have taken the stage at Bay Burger. Brondal attributes musicians’ attraction to the night to a feeling of camaraderie, and a little magic.
“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.”
In this safe space, such musicians as Grammy award winning trombone player Ray Anderson and Grammy award winning trumpeter Randy Brecker have repeatedly taken the stage beside other regulars, and the result is always unique.
“We are just there to play music and make people feel good,” says Brondal. “There are some nights when the audience feels that magic.”
There were enough such nights that when Brondal, Landes, and sound engineer George Howard set out to put together an album, it was a mighty task.
“The criteria were so hard,” says Brondal. “We had hundreds of hours of radio show from WPPB (which has been broadcasting the jam session weekly for more than a year). But I wanted to pick some tunes that represent a little diversity stylistically. Jazz, Latin, Funk.”
Landes adds that one important aspect was really representing the people who make the jam session every week.
“We wanted to make sure we had as many of the regular jammers represented,” Landes says. “We tried to pick good solid pieces where there were no weak spots.”
“I wanted to represent the people that come down every Thursday,” he says. “But then I wanted to include really special nights where the roof just blew off and I couldn’t believe it.”
The result was a six-track album that features the Thursday Night Live House Band (Claes Brondal on the drums, Peter Martin Weiss on the bass, and Bryan Campbell on the guitar) as well as regulars like Dick Behrke on the trumpet and Max Feldschuh on the vibraphone, and special guests like Morris Goldberg on the sax and Hector Martignon on the piano, plus many more. The album will be released in proper Jam Session fashion, on a Thursday night at Bay Street. On December 20, The Thursday Night Live band will kick off at 7 p.m. and, as always, the stage will be open to any jammers who want to play along. The instruments will dance together spontaneously, and there’s no predicting what will be created. Only now, it doesn’t have to be so fleeting. Now there will be a record.