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Restaurant Forges Identity With Music

Posted on 01 May 2009

For drummer Claes Brondal, it has been a difficult time to meet and play with other musicians. There are few opportunities, he said recently, to sit in and play, especially at a professional level.

For restaurant owner John Landes, there was a challenge to make his Bay Burger on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike a nexus for the various groups that make up the local community.

Together, after meeting through a mutual friend over Thanksgiving dinner, they decided that the casual restaurant would make a perfect venue to bring musicians together, as well as those that appreciate an evening of freewheeling and frequently unexpected music.

“I had been looking a long time for a venue for a jam session when I met John,” said Mr. Brondal in an interview this week. “We started talking about a Hamptons jazz festival and said we should start small.”

That’s when the idea of doing weekly Thursday night jams at Bay Burger got started.

“We just thought we’d take the temperature of the community,” said Brondal.

Going into the fourth week of the session tonight, Thursday, it appears that the temperature is pretty hot — or cool, as the case may be.

Each week has seen some growth in the audience, and each week sees new performers showing up to play, said Mr. Landes.

 “It’s attracting the musicians, and that’s what we wanted to do,” he said, adding the evenings’ music ranges widely, from jazz to folk to funk and Latin.

“Right now it’s pretty much free form,” he said. “The music works very well in the room, as it’s not necessarily rock.”

The restaurateur, whose daughter and son-in-law Joe and Liza Tremblay, really run the place, said they had been experimenting with music since last year, and regularly featured local bands and performers, such as Jim Turner and Leroy Klavis.

“We’re outside the village and trying to find ways of putting Bay Burger on the map,” said Mr. Landes. “We’re trying to establish an identity for Bay Burger, and music is one of the ways to do that.”

“I’ve always been a music nut,” said Mr. Landes, who remembers visiting a number of local sites for live music, including Stephen Talkhouse and even the concerts at Long Beach during the summer.

He went around searching for local bands, and said that while the restaurant featured music on a regular basis last year, they “wanted a more consistent house band.”

Mr. Landes gives most of the credit to Mr. Brondal who, he said, set it all up.

“He was the one who reached out to the musicians,” said Mr. Landes.

In February, Mr. Brondal sent out an excited email to friends and musicians telling them about the new venue and soliciting ideas. It would be, he promised, not an open mike night, but a “good ol’ jam session where musicians can practice their craft, try new compositions, new ideas, free style rap over the Sidewinder beat, take a leap of faith, solo over odd chord changes and signatures.”

His solicitation was successful, and now he says each night features about 10 or 15 musicians anxious to sit in and experiment.

“It’s all inclusive,” he said, “but you have to be able to play and interact with other people.”

“Right from the get go we had a full house,” he said, and now we’re getting musicians from as far away as Sayville.” The nearest place with anything like what is going on at Bay Burger is in Levittown, said Mr. Brondal.

For his part, he credits the Bay Burger owner with making the scene happen.

“John Landes believed in the combination of burgers and jazz,” said Mr. Brondal. “He’s creating a cradle of arts, music and poetry.”

Indeed, even Mr. Landes’ own staff gets in the act. Willie Jenkins, a line cook will often come from behind the counter and put in his own, original freestyle rap with the musicians.

“So it’s also a marriage of music and spoken word,” said Mr. Landes.

Noting his location on the turnpike, Mr. Landes said, “We’re at the crossroads, trying to bring two communities together. We’re trying to establish our identity and see where it goes.”

The Thursday night jam sessions at Bay Burger begin approximately at 7 p.m.


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