Live jazz and funk music with The Ditmars Sessions

(Photo by Jessica Militello)

Every other week on Wednesday nights, The Ditmars Sessions takes place — giving local players the chance to practice their craft and jam with others in genres such as jazz, latin and funk music.

The sessions are held under twinkling lights and the night sky in The Ditty’s backyard. A retractable roof makes it feel like the event is just as enmeshed with the busyness of Ditmars Boulevard as it is with the company inside, talking among each other and enjoying live music.

After a particularly impassioned set where the group played their heart out, a man quietly approaches saxophonist and co-creator of the Sessions, Anibal Rojas, and whispers a message. A half second later, Rojas declares, “we got our first noise complaint,” to laughs and some applause from the audience.

It’s hard to imagine who could be peeved by live jazz music, but to be fair, Rojas’ partner, Danny Fernandez, concedes that at times live music can seem a bit loud.

The event starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends promptly at 9 p.m., but for those two and a half hours, some of Astoria’s best musicians — which there are a plethora of — have a space to come together. It’s something that most players would have to travel to other boroughs for in the past, which is how the sessions came to be in the first place.

“I was hanging out with a bunch of musicians here [at The Ditty], because I live nearby. This is kind of my bar, I know all the bartenders, I even went to one of their weddings,” Fernandez said. “I was hanging out with other saxophonists, and we were like, ‘there’s nothing happening in Astoria,’ when actually in this 10-block radius, you have all the top musicians in the city.” 

The casual conversation among friends turned into Fernandez reaching out to his friend and fellow saxophonist, Anibal Rojas, who he first met when he was playing at The Last Word in Astoria three years ago, and immediately detected his classical training, similar to his own musical background.

He enjoyed how he played and a friendship budded from there. Rojas’ business savvy along with his musical talent made him the perfect co-founder for the event. They had their first jam session in August and since then, it has been a budding success. 

Throughout the event, different musicians perform, some of whom have played together before, and some who have not. Together on stage, they play and flow in their own kind of dance that seems as if sometimes they’re sharing a special moment that the audience can only witness without truly understanding.

“That’s my favorite thing about jazz music,” said Patrick Chan, a drummer who performed that night. “It’s almost an oxymoron because you have to be really confident in yourself, but you’ve also got to have enough humility to take a step back and listen to what people are doing.”

The sessions are just as much a chance to perform as it is to continually improve as a musician, something that musicians on every level can benefit from no matter how long they’ve been playing.

“These guys are great musicians,” Fernandez said. “You come to a gig and it’s called growth, and I think for all of us, no matter how professional we are, we’re still growing, so that’s really the goal. And it works out for the bar, it works out for the neighborhood. I feel like it reverberates.”

The Ditmars Sessions play every other Wednesday at The Ditty Bar, located on 3503 Ditmars Blvd., starting at 6:30 p.m.

For more information go to instagram.com/ditmars_sessions.

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