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A Night of New York Jazz in Sag

Mon, 03/13/2023 - 14:49
Mardi Gras Mambo and Latin Jazz Night featured Omar Kabir on horn, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, Claes Brondal on drums, and, not pictured, Hector Martignon on piano.
Christopher Gangemi

Tuesday night in Sag Harbor and the Masonic Temple was . . . hopping? 

Outside, colorful lights played over its facade, and the deep thrump of a stand-up bass escaped through the seams of the building, built by Benjamin Huntting in 1845.

Correction: It was not Tuesday night; it was Jazz Night.

Up the main stairwell, John Capello in a brown corduroy jacket and beret, a mason and artist who painted the mural inside, collected the $15 donations, money that is split between Jam Session Inc., the nonprofit that produces the concerts, and the temple.

Inside it was hot. Seventy people watched the stage, nodding heads, tapping feet, and swaying.

They sat on benches and wicker chairs from 1917, the year the Masons bought the lodge. Tables were adorned with blue checkerboard tablecloths and large white candles. An octogenarian, Morris Goldberg, who famously played the pennywhistle solo on the Paul Simon track "You Can Call Me Al," blasted South African jazz (or Safrojazz) from a saxophone while standing on a Persian rug. 

Behind him, a Panamanian, Santi Debriano, in a vaguely medical-looking white shirt, wrestled a stand-up bass. It seemed as though Mr. Debriano would pin the instrument to the blue rug, until suddenly the instrument gained the upper hand, perhaps sending the bassist over his chair. 

The balcony was full of 20 and 30-somethings, but over all the average age was closer to 55. The food was South Indian, courtesy of Corey De Rosa of the Tapovana Lunch Box in Bridgehampton. A glowing "G," a Masonic symbol that stands for either "God" or "geometry" ("We're multi-denominational," Anthony Lombardo, master of the lodge, said), hung over the room. A skeleton in a tie-dyed shirt loitered next to the stage. Aging Masons poked around, recording the scene with their iPhones.

The influence was eclectic, even random; the vibe glorious. 

"There's such an unbelievable confluence of upliftment happening," Mr. De Rosa said.

"It's a little bit psychedelic," said Claes Brondal, the house drummer, M.C., and the Jam Session's sole employee. "It gives me a sense of New Orleans, a voodoo theme. The acoustics are superb. I passed this place for 20 years and never paid any attention to it."

Mr. Brondal works with a Jam Session board member, Joel Chriss, in lining up musicians for shows.

The Jam Session began 15 years ago at the dearly missed Bay Burger on the Turnpike when John Landes, the session's founder, suggested it to Joe Tremblay, his son-in-law, who owned the restaurant with his wife, Liza. After that restaurant closed in 2019, the Jam Session searched for a new home, settling on the Masonic Temple in April of 2022.

"There's always been secrecy around our organization," said Mr. Lombardo, "but six or seven years ago we decided to open up the lodge. We're about making people better people and doing good things." With their cut of the money collected at the door, the Masons fund local scholarships and charities like the food pantry at the Old Whalers Church, among others. 

The collaboration has also led to a growth in membership for the Masons. "Now we're getting men in their 30s and 40s," Mr. Lombardo said.

The synergy between Jazz Night and the Masonic Temple has also been a boon for Mr. Landes. As it's a 501(c)(3) organization, the door money, he said, mostly goes to the musicians, who often travel from New York to play for the night before heading back.

"If Claes and Joel bring in four musicians, that's nearly a grand right there. We'd like to record all the concerts, but the typical rate is beyond our range." They also have sponsors, like Oza Sabbeth Architects and Bond No. 9, a local perfumer, that help fill financial gaps. 

Nonetheless, gaps remain.

"We've always lost money on Jazz Night," Mr. Landes said, despite the full house. "But we'd like to take it to the next level."

"We're always looking for partners who would like to sponsor our endeavors," said Mr. Brondal.

In addition to Jazz Night, Jam Session Inc. produces Hamptons Jazz Fest, which brings concerts throughout the summer, the Winter Jazz Series, and the Jam Session Radio Hour on 88.3, WLIW-FM.

"For Jazz Night, Claes finds a bunch of musicians and they come together and play. Hamptons Jazz Fest and the Winter Series, we enlist existing bands, some connected to Lincoln Center," Mr. Landes said.

"We did 45 major productions last summer," said Mr. Brondal. "We always strive for top-notch music, but the community gathering has become even more important."  

"At 7 p.m., the temple is full and people are talking. We feel that's a success right there. It's affordable and accessible. I find many new faces each week, which means at some point they'll all show up at the same time. It seems we have started a perpetual-motion machine."

"Tuesday night is our home base. Why go to New York for jazz when New York is coming here?"

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