By Tim Sommer
Afro-Cuban Jazz is exciting, effervescent, and inventive, full of the brisk highs of melody and the saucy, pulsing lows of the beat. It’s music that contains the ancient seeds of West Africa, the explosive inventions of New Orleans, and the daring rhythms, both agile and angular, that emerged out of New York and Havana in the middle of the last century. It’s a genre that is both immediate and exotic, and it’s alive and well in the deep south – the deep South Fork, that is.
This irrepressibly attractive music, politically charged yet alive with the common language of freedom and feeling, is full of the dynamic tension and skill of Jazz, but also imbued with a sensual spirit that belongs to the visceral and tropical side of our heat-seeking souls. It will also, thankfully, be regularly on display this winter in Sag Harbor.
We have drummer Claes Brondal to thank for that.
Since 2011, Claes and an extraordinary group of musicians have been generating cool heat and hot jazz at the Jazz Jam Session, which takes place every Thursday night at Bay Burger in Sag Harbor. On December 3, they introduced a regular monthly evening devoted to the amazing sounds of Afro-Cuban Jazz.
It seems a natural avenue for The Jam Session to go down, since they have long attempted to open minds, move feet, and create musical memories as deep as jazz’s storied and complex history.
“The Jam Session was conceptualized in 2009 between my partner John Landes and myself,” Claes says. “We aimed to create a live jazz experience accessible to a wide range of audience member of all demographics and ages, as well as creating a platform for local and global musicians to network, showcase and practice their instrument before a live audience.”
Not only has Claes and The Jam Session achieved many of their musical, conceptual, and spiritual goals, but they have also brought a plethora of major jazz names to Sag Harbor to join their weekly soirees. In addition, they have helped spread the word via a productive relationship with local radio station WPPB, 88.3FM.
The guest musicians who join The Jam Session Band on stage help make their local mission international in flavor.
“We introduced our Special Guest Series in 2011 to help promote local and global musicians,” notes Mr. Brondal, “as well as promoting the roots of jazz, such as Afro-Cuban, African, Brazilian and Blues. With each special guest feature we invite guest musicians to sit in, creating a diverse mixture of up-and-coming musicians and world-class musicians — a combination unique to The Jam Session. These sessions are recorded live to tape and aired weekly on WPPB, and can found as podcasts on the WPPB website. We are also in the process of distributing our program to other NPR stations in the United States.”
The increased exposure will help Claes and The Jam Session promote awareness of jazz within the community, benefit worthy area charities via their non-profit wing and radio broadcasts, and advocate jazz as an active force that promotes understanding, education, and human kindness.
“We have stepped up our game in 2015,” Claes comments, noting some of the many things The Jam Session has done to promote their good work and great music. “It’s part of our mission to present a wide range styles within the realm of improvisational music, such as Afro-Cuban Jazz, Brazilian Jazz, Afro Jazz, etcetera. We also aim to reach an audience that represents a wide demographic, including our wonderful Latino community. We also have partnered up with East End Arts Council. Together we will present live music and workshops in our community and schools titled Musical Roots of Rhythm. These performances will begin in 2016.”
It’s clear that Mr. Brondal and The Jam Session are taking fundamental and positive musical action here on the East End, along with insuring that live music of remarkable diversity and character stays alive and well in the South Fork. Aside from the goings-on at Bay Burger that will provide some much-welcome Cuban heat during this Northern winter, how does Mr. Brondal assess the health of music on the East End?
“I find there’s a lot more going on, in terms of local musicians doing interesting and active things in East End/South Fork then a lot of people might think,” enthuses Claes. “The music scene in The Hamptons is fairly strong, especially during the summer months. The Sag Harbor Music Festival is a great testament to the importance and relevance of live music. The streets are packed, local businesses are busy and people are exposed to new music.”
Mr. Brondal is excited that The Jam Session is doing their part to think globally and act locally, and putting effort, time and timbales to work spreading the word.
“The Jam Session is actively trying to promote diversity within the realm of improvisational music, especially with our Afro/Cuban Jazz Night once a month featuring prominent musicians from all over the world. But we need more venues promoting eclectic live music year round, such as Latin, African High Life, Brazilian, Jazz, Funk and Big Band. Given our year round population I believe we have a market for these styles of music.”
The Jam Session of the Hamptons takes place every Thursday at Bay Burger in Sag Harbor, 1749 Sag Harbor Turnpike. Show time is every Thursday evening at 7:00pm – 9:00pm. The next Afro Cuban night is on January 21. If you want to find out more about the amazing work of The Jam Session, please visit thejamsession.org.