These Supers Rock: Van Scoyoc and Schneiderman Take a Musical Break

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc on guitar during a recent performance at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. Michael Heller photo

From the audience, the two bands jamming on stage at The Stephen Talkhouse last month could have passed as anyone.

But they were far from it. Of the 12 musicians rocking out to “Moon Dance” and “Dead Flowers,” half were public servants — yanked completely out of context and loving every second.

Trading business casual for casual-casual, Anthony Liberatore normally sits on a citizens advisory committee, but also rips on guitar, as does Job Potter, former chairman of the East Hampton Planning Board and a former member of the East Hampton Town Board.

And Town Justices Andrea H. Schiavoni and Steven Tekulsky are musicians in their own right, all led by the Southampton and East Hampton Town supervisors themselves, Jay Schneiderman and Peter Van Scoyoc — who finally shared a stage, for the very first time.

“It was awesome. It was so much fun,” Schneiderman said with a laugh. “Peter and I had never performed together. He’s very talented; I was impressed. I don’t know if people were expecting that from us.

“I think they’re suspecting I’m not very good,” he added, “and then when they see I can hold my own, I think it may surprise people that I play at a professional level.”

In preparation for the “Ladles of Love” benefit concert at the Amagansett fixture — a fundraiser for the East Hampton and Amagansett food pantries — Schneiderman quickly pulled together his band, Jay Schneiderman & Friends, while Van Scoyoc riffed on the theme with his group, Supe du Jour, managing to squeeze in just one stripped-down rehearsal with his compatriot in Southampton.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman on drums during a concert at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Michael Heller photo

“The best playing, I think, that Jay and I did was at his house in a rehearsal,” Van Scoyoc said. “We did one rehearsal together on the tunes and then we went off on a jam: The Temptations, ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.’ Just bass player, drums and guitar, and that was fun. I do think the word’s out in the community that I play, but I don’t know how widely known it is.”

While both supervisors grew up on the rock and roll of the 1960s and ’70s, a young Van Scoyoc, whose wife was a longtime music educator at East Hampton High School,  also found himself immersed in folk and classical music, thanks to his parents. He fell in love with the sounds and stories of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez and the movements of Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky and Brahms.

He began on piano in elementary school and picked up his first guitar at age 11 — but his friend wanted it back after two weeks. By then, he had taught himself “Proud Mary,” and began to master a little chord book.

“I’ve always found music as an emotional outlet. I think in adolescence, you need an outlet,” Van Scoyoc said. “I always felt moved by music, and it really is a language, a universal language. That was my outlet. I did play sports, and that’s great for blowing off steam.”

For Schneiderman, drums did the job of sports, though he started on piano, as well, before making the shift to percussion.

“When I played piano, my parents used to beg me to practice. And when I switched to drums, they used to beg me not to practice. Drums are a lot louder,” he said. “It was really an important part of growing up. It not only was creative and physical, in terms of exercise, but I think it also helped work out those adolescent frustrations, banging on the drums. I think it was very therapeutic.”

His musical education brought him to Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia, even Cuba, where he studied with a renowned conga player, he said. Only recently has he dusted off the skins and found his way back to drum set, he said, as Southampton Town supervisor — after serving two terms as East Hampton Town supervisor and six terms as Suffolk County legislator.

“And I drag my drums with me — they’re here in Southampton. I’ve never stopped. The beat goes on,” he said. “I’ve been serious about music my whole life, and I still don’t think I can live without it. In this crazy political life I find myself in, it helps to sit down once in a while on the drums. It relieves some of the stress, just like it did when I was an adolescent. It’s definitely a release of tension. I love it.”

Schneiderman is far from the first politician with a musical side. In fact, the tradition is longstanding. Former president Bill Clinton can play a mean sax. Former Secretary of State John Kerry has garage-rock roots as a bassist. Even President Donald Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, plays in a band.

“Music is another dimension of expressing oneself,” Van Scoyoc said. “If I’m having a bad day, I can go pick up the guitar. If I’m having a good day, I’ll go pick up the guitar. I’ll celebrate, I’ll sing the blues. I find it revitalizes me, to pick me up when I’m feeling down. It can go through a whole broad range of emotions and I’ve always enjoyed that.

“So the connection between music and government may be related, in some ways, to communication,” he continued. “If you look at the number of doctors and scientists who play music, as well, you’ll find there’s a very high correlation. I think it helps you develop a broader, more balanced person, and music education does seem to have an impact on one’s ability to understand abstract concepts in science and mathematics.”

As a drummer, Schneiderman said he finds music to be extremely mathematical and analytical. He’s a timekeeper, breaking the measure into segments with precision, tone, personality and style.

“Like the drums, I try to approach my job with an artistic eye,” he said. “There are a lot of design elements to what I do — we’re creating parks and buildings and just building of community, places where people interact. I think having a creative mind is a good skill for the job of supervisor.”

With creativity also comes a certain level of improvisation, Van Scoyoc noted, and in government, it’s required.

“Having that creativity and flexibility in thinking is certainly helpful in government, and in music,” Van Scoyoc said. “I think music is a really important aspect of being human and the more live music that we can share with each other, the better. There’s no substitute for it. And those of us who play music are probably gonna play it our whole lives.”