Jazz Loft, Housing a Trove of Memorabilia, Opens in Stony Brook
By KARIN LIPSON
MAY 20, 2016
The exterior of the Jazz Loft, which is housed in a two-story stone building. Heather Walsh for The New York Times
As a teenage trumpeter who loved jazz, Tom Manuel would visit the Dunton Inn, a local spot in East Patchogue where a group of old-timers — some of whom had played alongside Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Louis Armstrong — would let the untried kid from Lake Ronkonkoma sit in during weekly jam sessions.
“I was terrible, compared to them,” said Mr. Manuel at the Jazz Loft, an exhibition, preservation and performance space in Stony Brook that celebrated its grand opening on Saturday. Mr. Manuel, now a 37-year-old musician, teacher and jazz historian, founded the loft, which houses a vast assemblage of jazz memorabilia, including musical instruments, archival photographs, original sheet music, personal letters, master recordings and vintage LPs.
Tom Manuel at the Jazz Loft, an exhibition, preservation and performance space he founded in Stony Brook. Heather Walsh for The New York Times
On June 2, Mr. Manuel will lead the Jazz Loft Big Band in a concert. The 17-member group will present music by Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He also plans to schedule performances throughout the year.
How did this come about? It was partly serendipity (more on that later) and partly a result of Mr. Manuel’s moxie — a trait that no doubt helped win over those jazz veterans he performed with some 20 years ago at the Dunton Inn. (The spot still has live jazz; Mr. Manuel, who lives in St. James, performs there monthly.)
“I was smart enough to know when to play and when not to,” said Mr. Manuel of his neophyte days. The jazz pros, in turn, “were flattered” by his attention, he said: “Some of them thought, Well, maybe I can pass along some music to this kid and keep it alive.”
A piano with a framed portrait of the singer Arthur Prysock. Heather Walsh for The New York Times
Those sessions, and his subsequent career, led to some lasting friendships and eventually to the trove of memorabilia from musicians or their families that are on display or preserved in archives at the Jazz Loft.
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The collection includes material associated with both the stars and the stalwart sidemen of jazz: Among them are Armstrong, Ellington, John Coltrane, the vibraphonist Teddy Charles, the cornetist Warren Vaché, the singer Arthur Prysock, the trumpeter Chuck Genduso and the society bandleader Lester Lanin. (Mr. Lanin was not strictly speaking a jazz man, but the Loft is open to other jazz-tinged genres).
There are old Decca Records masters by Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Hoagy Carmichael, Les Paul and others, archived in a kind of cabinet of music wonders in the research library. Even a three-tiered bandstand has history: It was constructed of wood from the dance floor of New York’s erstwhile Roseland Ballroom. The bandstand is the centerpiece of Club Q, a performance area named after Vincent Quatroche, a jazz-inspired visual artist from Greenport who died in 2011. Examples of his work are also on view.
On display are photographs of jazz musicians by Bernard Seeman. Heather Walsh for The New York Times
Some items may surprise visitors. In a display case in the library, for example, sits the handwritten sheet music for “It Is Written in the Stars,” a little-known song by Billy Strayhorn, whose work “Take the A Train” was made famous by Ellington. Explaining how he acquired the composition, Mr. Manuel said of Strayhorn that he “didn’t like the music,” so he gave the song to Lloyd Trotman, a bassist, who passed it along to Mr. Manuel, who then commissioned its orchestration.
Hard as it is to imagine, the Loft’s contents were once stored in Mr. Manuel’s home. “I had stuff everywhere,” he said, estimating that his collection includes at least 10,000 pieces. “It was in the laundry room, in the shed, in the garage, in the basement.”
The material got its new home (here’s where the serendipity comes in) after Gloria Rocchio, the president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook, read a Newsday article
about Mr. Manuel in 2014. “I picked up the phone and called him,” Ms. Rocchio said. “You’ve got the collection, we’ve got the building. Let’s talk,” she recalled saying to him.
Louis Jordan memorabilia, donated by his wife, Martha Jordan. Heather Walsh for The New York Times
So they talked. The two-story stone building, which once housed a museum, was vacant. When Mr. Manuel presented his proposal for use of the space to the organization’s board, “the energy was unbelievable,” Ms. Rocchio said. “Everybody in the room felt, that’s the man.”
The building was renovated with around $420,000 in donations of cash and services, Ms. Rocchio said. The organization now leases the property to the Jazz Loft for $1 per year and is providing promotional support.
A few weeks ago, the Jazz Loft was still a work in progress, with some of its educational programs still in the planning stages. But Mr. Manuel’s goal of preserving jazz history had already become a reality.
“When I walk through and see these things, it’s very personal to me,” he said. “It’s passing the torch,” he added — just as the old jazz men of his youth had hoped.