Duck Creek Online Jazz Series finds an Audience-free Stage in Brooklyn

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Mark Turner and Jerome Sabbagh perform at Bar Bayeux in Brooklyn.
When Adam Kolker improvises a jazz solo, he finds freedom in the rhythm — unconfined by rules. There is no right or wrong. And the music is for no one but himself.

But the saxophonist is the first to acknowledge the energy that an audience brings to any given concert — and how the dynamic of a room shifts with or, in the case of the current COVID-19 climate, without it.

“For me, I don’t really care so much that people are listening. I think it’s more about, for me, the experience,” Kolker said of performing. “Though I do admit, and it’s interesting, that things are different when people are listening. It definitely brings you into greater focus. It changes things, it makes things a little more… something. I don’t know what the right word is.

“But there is definitely a difference between when I’m over at the bar playing with just my friends, or whether I’m at the bar when there’s an audience there,” he continued. “There is definitely a different dynamic.”

Adam Kolker

Striking a balance between playing to a packed house and a completely empty room, the Arts Center at Duck Creek has partnered with Bar Bayeux to host a pandemic-compliant middle ground: a series of free jazz concerts — the next on Wednesday, January 27, featuring the Scott Wendholt/Adam Kolker Quartet — streamed live from the Brooklyn venue and into homes across the East End and beyond.

“It’s important because it shows that we’re still alive,” Peter Watrous, the Springs-based center’s music director, said. “It sounds silly, but we’re actually still thinking and producing and making art. We have a fealty to this art form that we enjoy and we’re gonna keep on doing it, in the worst possible circumstances.”

When the pandemic landed in the Hamptons, Watrous picked up the pieces of his shattered, in-person programming and spearheaded the “Covid Commission” series, which tapped musicians for paid, 20-minute performances that Duck Creek sent out to its membership as a way of lifting their spirits.

He never expected they would garner an international audience.

Mark Turner and Jerome Sabbagh perform at Bar Bayeux in Brooklyn.

“We figured out really quickly that one of the astonishing byproducts of COVID/the internet was that the reach got really big,” Watrous said. “We were seeing responses from all of the world, essentially, to the stuff. Some of the ‘Covid Commission’ pieces were getting 5,000 views and 10,000 views. It was sort of crazy. So we thought, ‘This is fantastic, we’re paying musicians and we’re giving our community out here something to be a little less bored with.’”

With the art center’s live program limited to warmer weather — “It’s an un-winterized barn,” the music director said — Watrous, once again, had to get creative with winter entertainment, especially following a summer of outdoor concerts. A musician himself, he is part of the consortium that runs Bar Bayeux, and with underwriting from the nonprofit Keyed Up and Duck Creek, the idea was born. Tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh, who  performed in person at the Arts Center at Duck Creek last July with the Marta Sanchez Quintet, is a regular performer at Bar Bayeux and is in charge of booking all the bands.

“There’s nobody in the bar [during the concerts],” he said. “But the thing that’s incredible is that the COVID-enforced shutdown means that people don’t get to play, and music is obviously incredibly social. It wasn’t something that most of us had thought about, in terms of its relationship to an audience, your relationship to other people when you’re playing, but it’s incredibly social — and that’s just been cut out of our lives. So people who are playing are so ecstatic to be playing.”

This past month, the stage has hosted performances by guitarist and “Covid Commissions” alumni Mike Moreno, saxophonist Chet Doxas and bassist Dave Ambrosio, and the Immanuel Wilkins Quartet, each navigating the audience-free atmosphere in their own way.

And the Scott Wendholt/Adam Kolker Quartet — which also includes bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Victor Lewis — will do the same.

“It changes the dynamic and changes the game. It’s weird,” Kolker said. “I think we’ll have a better understanding of just how weird it is when we get back to it and realize what we’ve missed. At this point, I don’t know if we can really tell just how much we’re missing until we get to be able to experience it again.”

The Arts Center at Duck Creek will continue its series of free jazz concerts at Bar Bayeux with the Scott Wendholt/Adam Kolker Quartet on Wednesday, January 27, at 7:30 p.m., streaming live from its Facebook page, as well as the Jazzwise Facebook page. Up next on February 3 is Otis Brown III & the KBJO Collective, followed by Peter Bernstein and Steve Cardenas Quartet. For more information, visit duckcreekarts.org or barbayeux.com.

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