Stan Jay, founder of Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island, died today after a long fight with a rare form of Lymphoma. He was 71.
A long time friend of mine, and of countless lovers of fine stringed instruments, Stan was a radiant being who accurately proclaimed the focus of his life’s work as a “dream fulfillment center.” He will be missed forever.
It is very sad news. Stan had recently been moved from the hospital to a nursing home and reports from the family seemed encouraging. So I had hoped for the best.
He spent his life making people very, very happy. And many of them were musicians who went out and made countless others very, very happy.
I was unaware of Stan’s life had come to an end, as I attended the gala benefit dinner for the New York Youth Symphony this evening in Manhattan.
The Jazz orchestra arm of the organization performed before and after dinner. The guitarist for this night of big band jazz was playing a Gibson with a double cutaway, a 336, but maybe a 335. Stan would have known at first sight.
As ever it was inspiring to hear such amazing music from teenagers who are yet years away from the full potential that shall be revealed in their adult careers. And it is of some comfort to know that the future of great music is in such good, capable hands, now that one who so dedicated themselves to music is no longer here to play his part and the gift of music as he had with all those grateful recipients of his time, enthusiasm, wisdom and talents.
I bought my first new guitar from Stan Jay. And the most recent guitar that I bought from a shop, a custom Martin OM, was also sold to me by Stan.
The guitar I grew up playing was given to me by my brother. It was an Asian knock off of a Martin 000-18, won shooting pool. But at Mandolin Brothers I could walk amongst a forest of “real” guitars, and dream away entire Saturdays playing Martin, Collings, Santa Cruz, Gibson, Taylor, Gretch, Goodall, Weissenborn, D’Angelico and many more.
I remember clearly how he allowed me to haunt the shop for months, with that “someday I’ll afford one of these” look in my eyes. And one day I came in and bought a brand new Martin Custom 15, the first of many purchases from Mandolin Brothers.
“Play anything you want!” is all he would say to shy newcomers used to being scolded if they dared pick up a guitar without a shopkeeper’s permission. And if the register was slow, Stan would put on his thumb pick and play along with his customers, that squinty-eyed grin and sly chuckle accompanying every joke, pun, or clever remark, often arising from his own quick, jovial sense of humor.
I can see his Cheshire cat grin right now, as the second or third implication of some clever turn of words sends him into deeply satisfying chuckles of mirth and his eyes glitter with tears.
I went on to hone my guitar reviewing at Mandolin Brothers, where I would indeed play anything I wanted, and then would write up details of various guitars for the readers of Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s on-line forum, and eventually the Unofficial Martin Guitar forum. In later years, when I was unable to get out to Mandolin Brothers as often as I once did, I would encourage anyone shopping for guitars to get out to Stan’s, where the selection and prices are the best in New York City.
For the past dozen Augusts, Mandolin Brothers became an annual stop for pilgrims returning from Martinfest in Pennsylvania, both local residents and those heading to various airports on their way home. If they thought they had their fill of playing great guitars, or their hands too sore after marathon Martinfest jam sessions, five minutes in that dream fulfillment center brought rejuvenation and delight, and often yet another guitar purchase. Stan would always take time out to hear the latest news, share his latest joke, and play a tune or two.
I had to miss the August trip this year, so it has been some months since I had last seen Stan, at the reception for the early American guitar exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he looked his old self. He had regained a lot of weight that had been noticeably lost during his earlier struggle with MSL.
It has been my sincere hope that it was all behind him now. It turns out it had come out of remission, and Stan lost the fight earlier today.
Stan Jay certainly did his part and more to make the world a better place and those of us who were allowed to know him will remain enriched by the privilege.