arts 08.2.17

Gone: 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. She bought a mandocello, actually, but there goes the rhyme.

The store, which opened in 1971 (and moved to its longtime location shortly after Mitchell's visit), was started by Stan Jay and Harold "Hap" Kuffner. Mr. Kuffner moved on, Mr. Jay was the institutional memory, stringed-instrument expert and guiding light of Mandolin until his death in 2014. The store was sold this year, the shop closed, with the new owner continuing the tradition online.

It used to take some work to get to this modest-looking place, which was not near any subway line. And you needed a ground plan once you get to Mandolin since the warren of rooms were divided by instrument type, but only sort of. Musicians didn't quibble since it was practically sacred ground.

Mr. Jay was very selective about what they sold and that interest in quality was what drew musicians over the years such as Dylan, George Harrison and Paul Simon, in addition to Joni Mitchell.

They came 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, was the vintage stock. On a lucky day, you could find an extraordinary 1903 Martin 00-42 or a Gibson A-4 mandolin from 1920.

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

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 more at Jason's site and his book Every Person in New York.

Gone - David Bowie

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