A Conversation With John Landes

John Landes

One of the founders of the Jam Session, the Thursday night gathering of musicians that drew throngs to its original home in Sag Harbor’s Bay Burger, talks about the Jam’s new home at Union Cantina in Southampton and why it is bringing jazz back to Sag Harbor with a regular jazz series at Baron’s Cove.

The Jam Session is returning to Sag Harbor with a Wednesday night session at Baron’s Cove. What can session devotees expect from this new series? 

Well, it will be a little different — it is not the full jam session at Baron’s Cove. We really want to focus on vocalists. We will have a trio, similar to what we do in Southampton, with some jammers jumping in here and there, but it will be smaller and focused on more featuring vocalists.

The Jam Session began a little less than a decade ago. When you and drummer Claes Brondal started the Session did you have any idea how popular that evening would become? 

I think maybe he did. Claes had been involved in jam sessions a little before we started the Jam. As soon as we hooked up with Claes, it was a big sigh of relief because it felt like something I knew had legs. He has such a strong network of musicians. We didn’t have a big crowd when we first started out, but the growth did start almost immediately.

With the closure of Bay Burger, the Session had to find a new home in Union Cantina in Southampton. How has that transition been? Are you finding the same following in Southampton as the Session enjoyed in Sag Harbor? 

We are moving in that direction. The transition has been good. We miss Bay Burger and what we had built there. I say ‘built,’ but really it just evolved into a thing — this little club where people would come and see each other week after week. There was a core of regulars and we built on that. It is starting to happen at Union Cantina We are in the dining room at Union Cantina — not the bar. We want it to feel like a cool New York City jazz club where you can have a nice meal while enjoying live music. So far, it has been good and is growing in popularity. We see a lot of new faces, but we also have some core Bay Burger regulars who still come to the Jam religiously. Union Cantina did just open its burger bar and people do walk by the Jam on their way there. I think in the spring and the summer it is going to become really popular. The burger bar was a smart move and something needed in Southampton. I think it is going to rock this summer.

You are also the chairman of the Board of Directors of WPPB, host a weekly Session radio hour and helped found the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. Where was your passion for music formed? 

I am a frustrated musician myself. I always loved live music. I went to college in Boston and was introduced to the Boston Tea Party — the venue for live music at the time. I grew up in the church — my dad was a preacher. It was all about music. He had a great voice. My mother was in the choir. I was in the choir. I always loved to sing. After retiring here, and once [Landes’ son-in-law and daughter] Joe and Liza [Tremblay] had Bay Burger I just thought, ‘Let’s have live music here.’ They gave me Thursday night and it worked out. When [Sag Harbor American Music Festival co-founder and co-artistic director] Kelly Dodds and her crew saw what was going on at the Jam — and especially when we moved to Bay Street in the winter — it was clear this was a community that really loved live music and the festival was something they could start. We were one of the first bands in the music festival and it has always supported jazz musicians.

The East End is home to tremendous musical talent. Do you see the Session expanding to include other venues, other genres in music? 

We are a nonprofit so I can see us getting involved in other ways that promote live music and the mentoring of young musicians. The expansion into Baron’s Cove was natural. They have grown their own music program including Wednesday nights into a jazz night — there is another band playing there, Hot Club of Montauk — so we will have the first and last Wednesday of the month for awhile if it all works out. This summer we are also going to do Duck Creek in Springs — they are putting their own series together. We would also love to get involved more with schools. We are talking to the East End Arts Council about a program where we can go into a school for two or three 45 minute sessions and work with individual musicians who want to perform live. Mentoring and supporting the creation of live music is a big part of our mission.

For more information, visit facebook.com/TheJazzJamSession.