arts 05.20.14

Mandolin Brothers
Every Person in New York

I went to Staten Island, Sharon
To buy myself a mandolin
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
- Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell did go to Staten Island to buy herself a mandolin in 1976 and that's how Song for Sharon, on her Hejira album, opens. Mitchell began writing it on the ferry after a visit to Mandolin Brothers, 629 Forest Ave. [Pelton/Oakland] 718.981.8585. She bought a mandocello, actually, but there goes the rhyme.

The store, which opened in 1971 (and moved to its current location not long after Mitchell's visit), was started by Stan Jay and Harold "Hap" Kuffner. Mr. Kuffner moved on, Mr. Jay is still the institutional memory, stringed-instrument expert and guiding light of Mandolin.

It takes some work to get to this modest-looking place, which is, let's say, not near any subway line. And you'll need a ground plan once you get to Mandolin since the warren of rooms are divided by instrument type, but only sort of. Musicians don't quibble since this is practically sacred ground.

Mr. Jay is very selective about what they sell. He's interested in quality above all and that's what has drawn musicians over the years such as Dylan, George Harrison and Paul Simon, in addition to Joni Mitchell.

They come for the Gibsons, Guilds, and Gretschs (grouped together in the 'G room'), C.F. Martins and Fenders and almost any fine stringed-instrument maker you can name. The biggest allure, though, is the vintage stock. They have an extraordinary 1903 Martin 00-42, a Gibson A-4 mandolin from 1920 and so many other beauties.

Mr. Stan allows you to play them, which tells you that the place has as much respect for musicians, famous and not, as musicians do for Mandolin Brothers.

[We're off until next week. Have a good Memorial Day!]

Jason Polan started Every Person in New York in March of 2008. He plans on working on the project until it is finished. Look for Every Person in New York on Tuesdays in MUG and daily at Jason's site.

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