A Mission To Spread a Love of Jazz Throughout the Community - 27 East

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A Mission To Spread a Love of Jazz Throughout the Community

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From left, Claes Brondal, creative director Bill O'Connell, and Joel Chriss outside the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor. Weekly jazz nights are held at the Masonic Temple, on the second floor of the museum. CAILIN RILEY

From left, Claes Brondal, creative director Bill O'Connell, and Joel Chriss outside the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor. Weekly jazz nights are held at the Masonic Temple, on the second floor of the museum. CAILIN RILEY

From left, Claes Brondal, Joel Chriss, and creative director Bill O'Connell at the Masonic Temple, on the second floor of the Whaling Museum, where weekly jazz nights events are held throughout the year. CAILIN RILEY

From left, Claes Brondal, Joel Chriss, and creative director Bill O'Connell at the Masonic Temple, on the second floor of the Whaling Museum, where weekly jazz nights events are held throughout the year. CAILIN RILEY

Hamptons Jazz Fest  Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9.   DANA SHAW

Hamptons Jazz Fest Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Hamptons Jazz Fest  Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9.   DANA SHAW

Hamptons Jazz Fest Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Hamptons Jazz Fest  Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9.   DANA SHAW

Hamptons Jazz Fest Executive Director Claes Brondal welcomes the crowd to the Gregory L:ewis show at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Guitarist Kevin McNeal drummer and Nasheet Waits perform

Guitarist Kevin McNeal drummer and Nasheet Waits perform "Organ Monk" with Gregory Lewis at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform

Organist, pianist and composer Gregory Lewis perform "Organ Monk" at the Parrish Art Museum on February 9. DANA SHAW

John Landes and Joel Chriss from the Hamptons Jazz Fest introduce Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

John Landes and Joel Chriss from the Hamptons Jazz Fest introduce Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Pianist Benito Gonzalez on stage with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Pianist Benito Gonzalez on stage with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Michael Ode on drums with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Michael Ode on drums with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Bassist Peter Brendler with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Bassist Peter Brendler with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

Pianist Benito Gonzalez on stage with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17.   DANA SHAW

Pianist Benito Gonzalez on stage with Stacy Dillard at the Southampton Arts Center on February 17. DANA SHAW

authorCailin Riley on Apr 17, 2024

For the past few years, Claes Brondal, John Landes and Joel Chriss have been united on a very specific mission that they are equally passionate about — popularizing the experience of listening to and appreciating live jazz music in the Hamptons.

The three men are the main workhorses behind Hamptons Jazz Fest, Jazz Night, and the Winter Jazz Series, which are all under the umbrella of The Jam Session Inc., a nonprofit production and education arts organization that produces live jazz music, including Latin and world music, through performances, recording, broadcast, and educational opportunities across the East End but primarily on the South Fork.

The collective will, expertise and love for the art form, combined with a strong desire to share it with the larger community, is what drives the trio, and the work they’ve put in over the past few years is paying off.

This summer will mark the fourth consecutive year that the group has put on Hamptons Jazz Fest, bringing some of the top jazz musicians from around the world to the area for a series of performances at partner venues throughout the area in July, August and September.

Hamptons Jazz Fest started in April 2021, funded by a donor, which gave the group eight weeks to pull it all together. They knew it wasn’t really a sufficient amount of time to get it all done, but managed to do it anyway, putting together a slate of 40 different jazz events over the course of 10 weeks, from the beginning of July through the middle of September. There were indoor and outdoor venues, from libraries to Gosman’s dock in Montauk and more, and now it’s become a tradition. Over the years, Hamptons Jazz Fest has featured Grammy Award-winning jazz musicians, and other top names from the jazz world.

Bringing live jazz to the area at the busiest time of year is not enough for the Hamptons Jazz Fest organization, however. It is committed to making jazz in the Hamptons a year-round event. Jazz Night at the Masonic Temple above the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum has become a popular offering on Tuesday nights. It’s two hours of live jazz in a more laid back format, providing a venue for up-and-coming musicians, giving musicians a chance to network with other jazz players, and giving the local community a chance to listen to live music played by talented professionals for free.

There’s also the Winter Jazz Series, a selection of live jazz concerts at area venues during January, February and March, as well as the Jam Session Radio Hour on WLIW-FM on Sundays from 8 to 9 p.m., featuring recordings of live performances and interviews.

They also take pains to make sure each event is a well-rounded experience. Booking talented and eclectic musicians is a big part of it, but Brondal and Chriss said it’s also about creating an enticing all around vibe.

“I personally want to make jazz available to people of all ages and have it not be too weird,” Brondal said. “We have a social hour where people can mingle and talk, and we like incorporating cabaret-style seating at our events.

Food and wine and beer offerings are also a big part of the events as well.

“It’s super important for musicians to have a happy audience,” he added. “We feed off each other.”

“Set and setting is important,” Chriss said. “All musical experiences and all artistic live performances have to be in the right setting, and have the right set and the right location. That’s all important to the presentation.”

It’s certainly working. Jazz Night at the Masonic Temple almost always sells out, with anywhere from 60 to 70 people in attendance. Brondal, Landes and Chriss were in Landes’s living room for an interview in February, the morning after a sold-out performance by renowned American jazz saxophonist Azar Lawrence at the Southampton Arts Center, as part of the winter jazz series.

It’s a lot of work to put it all together, but it’s a labor of love.

“Part of our mission is to show our community the vast stylistic range that’s within jazz,” Brondal said while seated in Landes’s Sag Harbor home. Jazz music played in the background while they sat around the coffee table, speaking of their love of jazz, their roots in the jazz world, and their desire to share that love with the community. “By presenting a wide range of jazz, we’ve been getting a bigger audience, and getting people in the door who normally wouldn’t have come. We’re trying to reshape the image of jazz as well.”

Chriss picked up on that thread.

“Jazz has this problem of breaking through to a wider audience,” he said. “One could argue it’s about marketing and the flooding of the market through pop record labels and the commercial nature of the culture. But it’s amazing, because there are people who would go to a Stravinsky concert at the Lincoln Center and they don’t understand the music but they brag about it to all their friends. But they go to a jazz concert, which may have some atonal parts or free flowing rhythms, and they don’t know what to make of it.”

Brondal, Chriss and Landes all came to their love of jazz and their collaboration with each other from different walks of life. Brondal, a native of Denmark, is a talented jazz drummer who decided at a young age that playing music and making a career out of it was the only path for him. In addition to playing in many jazz bands, with a wide range of styles, he also worked as a music producer and coordinator for years before moving to the states.

Brondal created The Jam Session 14 years ago, to provide a way for musicians to get together and, as the name implies, jam. The Sag Harbor restaurant Bay Burger, on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, became the venue for The Jam Session in the early days. That establishment was owned by Landes’s daughter, Liza Tremblay, and her husband, Joe. It closed in 2018, but during the years that The Jam Session called it home, it gave Landes, who said he has always been a big fan of live music, a greater appreciation for jazz.

“It’s a breed apart,” he said of live music. “It’s so different to hear something that’s actually live.”

“We’re very lucky to have the Masonic Temple as a venue that’s consistent,” Landes added. “It fits perfectly, so that will continue. It’s homey, and it’s very Sag Harbor-esque. That’s a platform by which we can popularize jazz to the rest of the community, so it’s very grassroots.”

Chriss entered the fold on the later side, but his involvement over the past few years has helped take Hamptons Jazz Fest and the Winter Jazz Series to the next level.

Chriss was one of the top booking agents in the music industry for 40 years, running his own multi-million-dollar business out of New York City for many years before retiring and moving out east in 2018.

Before long, he got involved with Hamptons Jazz Fest, and has been invaluable, according to Landes and Brondal, for his connections and professional network that has allowed them to book some of the top tier talent in the jazz world. While he was a force throughout genres in the music industry, Chriss always had a strong personal affinity and love for jazz, and met Brondal and Landes soon after moving to the area, showing up at Bay Burger and other venues where Jam Session events were happening. Before long, he was brought into the fold. Brondal says that Chriss has helped them tap into a world of musicians they would not have access to without him.

Since the humble beginnings at Bay Burger, Brondal and Landes, and now with the help of Chriss, have expanded the reach of their organization, and collaboration has been the name of the game.

Hamptons Jazz Fest and The Jam Session organization don’t have a brick and mortar headquarters, and never have. Rather, they have built productive partnerships with nearly all of the arts organizations in the area, including the Parrish Art Museum, the Southampton Arts Center, The Church in Sag Harbor, Guild Hall, the Masonic Temple, LTV Studios and more.

“The collaborations with other organizations are paramount to what we do,” Brondal said. “But it’s also beautiful because we love collaborating. When we collaborate with someone new, we dip into new territories and new audiences in a way we couldn’t have done if it was just us in our brick and mortar building, so I like that very much.”

As for Hamptons Jazz Fest, it’s already such a strong and well-established event, but could go in any number of directions in the future, with funding being the biggest X factor.

“A game-changer for us would be significant corporate sponsorships,” Landes said. “We feel that for companies that either have a presence out here or want to build one, and want to attach themselves to the sophistication of the Hamptons would recognize that jazz in the Hamptons would be a very good branding opportunity.”

“Nothing is holding us back but finances,” Brondal said. “But we do a lot with a little. We put on world class acts, weekly and monthly, year round.”

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