Mandolin Brothers Co-Founder passes at the age of 71.
by Teja Gerken
October 22, 2014
It’s with great sadness that we learned of Stan Jay’s passing at the age of 71 earlier today. As a co-founder of Staten Island, New York’s legendary Mandolin Brothers shop (established in 1971, in a partnership with Harold Kuffner, who left in 1982), Jay had a profound impact on the landscape of new and vintage instruments for more than four decades, and his infectiously friendly and welcoming nature made him a much-loved figure among his customers, instrument makers, and even his competitors.
I have yet to take the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island the way Joni Mitchell did back in 1976 (she wrote the “Song for Sharon” lyrics, “I went to Staten Island, Sharon, to buy myself a mandolin,” on the return trip), but I did manage to visit Stan at his shop a couple of times. On one trip several years ago, Peghead Nation co-founder Dan Gabel and I dropped by the shop unannounced after discovering we had some time to kill following a visit to the Martin factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and before catching our flight back home to California. Though it was clearly a busy day at the store, Stan greeted us warmly, told us he had to finish up a transaction with a customer before giving us a tour, and told us to make ourselves at home in his “Dream Fulfillment Center.”
Mandolin Brothers is a shop that feels more like several instrument-filled living rooms strung together than a typical retail shop, so Dan and I stumbled about, admiring the stunning inventory and chatting with several of the shop’s knowledgeable employees. Joining us a few minutes later, Stan proceeded to guide us through each room, pointing out highlights and encouraging the playing of as many instruments as possible. We played new and vintage Martins, at least one Lloyd Loar mandolin, several D’Angelico archtops, Lowdens, Goodalls, and others, with Stan commenting on each instrument with the colorful wit that is recognizable from his instrument descriptions in the Mandolin Brothers newsletter (for a taste, head over to mandoweb.com). Stan knew everything about each instrument’s qualities and he had an opinion about what kind of player it would be best suited for. And, other than being the genuine mensch that he was, this was really his stellar quality: to view both his instruments and his customers in a non-judgmental way, constantly trying to determine how an ideal match could be made.
In the years since my last visit, I frequently called on Stan as I was researching articles I was working on, and I always looked forward to getting his views on the state of the stringed instrument world when I’d run into him at the annual NAMM show.
Earlier this month, I was shocked when I learned via the Mandolin Café website that Stan had been hospitalized with advanced lymphoma. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about him, his incredible shop, and our various encounters for the last couple of weeks. This morning, a post on banjo player Marty Cutler’s Facebook feed alerted me to the fact that Stan had died, followed by a stream of similar notes, so the news is settling in. My thoughts are with Stan’s family, his employees, and all those who knew him better than I did. Without a doubt, his passing leaves an immeasurable void in the stringed instrument world.
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