The sounds of horns, drums, bass guitars and freestyle rap will not be stifled by the onset of winter thanks to a new partnership between Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre and Bay Burger restaurant, which will bring its popular Thursday night Jam Session to Bay Street while it shutters its doors through April.
The inaugural Bay Burger Jam Session at Bay Street will be held tonight, December 3, at 7 p.m. The sessions will take a recess through the holidays and reopen on January 7, and be held every Thursday night until Bay Burger opens its doors again in the spring.
The jam session is free and open to the musical and non-musical, young and old.
The partnership is one of several efforts on behalf of the theatre to become a venue for all members of the community, not just those who can afford a $50 theatre ticket come August. Over the course of the last year and a half, the theatre has opened its doors for a number of free, community events in its off-season when Bay Street’s stage is often dark, including televised presidential debates and the inauguration, as well as camps, community meetings and the ever-popular visit to Sag Harbor by Santa Claus, set for this Saturday, December 5.
“The idea is this is a place for everyone in the community,” said Bay Street Theatre Executive Director Tracy Mitchell. “I think it is really important, I believe to the very soul, that no matter if you are doing well or not, as an organization you have an ongoing obligation to serve the community you live in. To me, it is so important that we are able to offer things for free, as well as things that cost $5, $10 and $20. I think, if you are in the world of the arts, you have to keep that at the forefront because at the end of the day, if people cannot afford to see what you are putting up, you don’t have the ability to capture their imaginations, build an audience for the future.”
Building an audience was not difficult for the Bay Burger Jam Sessions, which were conceived by restaurant co-owner John Landes and Sag Harbor drummer Claes Brondal, who opened the first jam session this past April. Musicians of all instruments and styles are invited to jam with The Jam Session House Band.
Brondal said in addition to wanting to provide a much-needed venue for local musicians to hone their craft in front of a live audience, he also envisioned the sessions as an opportunity to create community and raise awareness about jazz and improvisational music. Providing a free venue for all ages, even Brondal’s toddler son, was also crucial to his goal of making the sessions as inclusive as possible.
“We sat down and talked to Bay Street about bringing the session there because it was working so well, we wanted to keep it going, keep it consistent and reliable,” said Brondal. Brondal hopes the new venue will open the sessions up to an even more diverse mix of musicians and audience members.
“I am extremely humble and grateful for this collaboration,” he said.
Brondal believes in the importance of music for children, one of the reasons he strove for an all-ages showcase.
“It is one of the reasons I became interested in the Jam Session,” he said. “A lot of kids have zero experience with live music certainly. I have had parents come down to Bay Burger with their kids and their eyeballs are literally falling out of their heads.”
As a nine-year-old, growing up in Denmark, he realized at an early age that his passion lay in music.
“I remember the first time I listened to really cool music, it gave me the goosebumps,” said Brondal. “I knew I wanted to do that with my life.”
After playing professionally in Denmark, he moved to the States in 1998 after experiencing what he called “a romantic love story” with wife Mare, an American. Living in New York and Oregon, the couple settled in Sag Harbor eight years ago and has a young son, Griffin. Brondal is a career musician, teaching drums privately and at local schools in drum workshops and music appreciation classes.
On Monday, Liza Tremblay, who owns Bay Burger along with Landes, who is her father, and her husband Joe, the restaurant’s executive chef, said the popularity of the jam sessions was beyond any of their expectations drawing a host of accomplished musicians and residents of all ages to the eatery.
“Thursday became our busiest night of the week,” she said. “It was a really fun atmosphere.”
Tremblay said she hopes a partnership with Bay Street continues after this winter.
“I would be interested in doing cross promotions in the future,” she said. “I think we can promote each other from opposite ends of Sag Harbor.”
“This was a no-brainer,” said Mitchell. “It fit well for us, and the artists – the talent – are terrific. This is not some karaoke night. These are real musicians with a true following.”