Nestled up on the eighth floor and without any sign to indicate its existence to passersby on the street, the Jazz Record Shop is certainly not easy to find. But Fred Cohen’s collection of music and memorabilia has a cult of clientele who come from around the world to see it with their own eyes. During my visit, Fred’s wife, Bobbie, helped customers navigate the CDs, DVDs, posters, books, and records while he led me to a quiet corner for our “heart to heart. ”While growing up in Boston (Dorchester, West Roxbury, then Jamaica Plain), music was a peripheral part of Fred’s life. “My mother had a lovely voice, she sang in a chorus in Pittsburgh and there were records of show-tunes around the house, ” he reminisced. “We did have a piano but my sister was always the pianist. It wasn’t until my aunt took me to the Boston Jazz Festival that I was exposed to music that really blew me away. ”Still, Fred never expected that jazz would become his life’s passion. After college, he took a job with Odyssey House in New York as a drug rehabilitation counselor. “This was 1969 through 1982, and after eleven years I was burned out. I didn’t know what to do. I figured I could live for a year off of my savings, and it helped that Bobbie was making good money as a textile designer at the time. That’s when I got the call from Jolly Roger. ”Jolly Roger was a jazz record store on Columbus Avenue that Fred often frequented. The owner was looking for a new person to take over the business and offered the opportunity to Fred. “I really didn’t think it was a good idea, ” he recalled. “In my previous job, I was traveling to conferences and centers across the United States. The idea of sitting at a desk waiting on people - that did not sound like me. But Bobbie said we should at least take a look. The shop was incredibly narrow, like a railroad flat, and you could barely turn around with all the record racks in there. ” Fred paused a moment and shook his head before picking up the story once more. “But at the back there was this window and you could see this tree. And on this tree were two crooning morning doves. Bobbie took it as a sign. We opened on April 1st 1983, moved to the West 26th location in 1992, and, well, we are still here today. ” As the years went by, Fred broadened his musical interests, schmoozed with fellow collectors, and listened carefully to his customers. Today, Fred is the one who does most of the teaching, and by all accounts he is an expert in identifying and appraising jazz memorabilia. He literally wrote the book on collecting Blue Note records to help fellow enthusiasts identify original pressings. And it turns out, according to Fred, that sitting behind a desk is not so bad. “Selling CDs is a boring experience but LPs are a different story. Each one has such a vast technical, social, musical, and cultural history that I could spend a day talking about each aspect. ” Fred led me over to a closet called the “vault” to show me some of his personal items that are not for sale. Perhaps the most impressive was a Charlie Parker LP “Bird Blows the Blues” that Dial records offered exclusively via a mail-in order coupon in the June 3, 1949 issue of Downbeat Magazine. Fred has not only the record (of which only about fifty were sold), but the magazine issue and the coupon, too. When I inquired about the value of the Charlie Parker material, he told me they are worth five to ten thousand dollars, but he doesn’t plan to part with them any time soon, if ever. To Fred they are priceless. Eventually, Fred and Bobbie plan to step away from their business. What that will mean for The Jazz Record Center, they are not sure. “To be honest, it’s a little scary to think about, ” Fred said. “I do want it to live on. In one form or another, I’d love for it to survive. ”
As a kid, Matt loved to tear guitars apart and rebuild them. He is one of the lucky few that never had to grow up; now he does so professionally, at his own shop, and calls it "repair. " 30th Street Guitars sells used and vintage guitars, from beginner level to upper-echelon. Most are electric, but a few are acoustic, and there are a few basses hoping to find new owners, as well. Matt's expertise means that he repairs and "does a lot of fretwork" with guitars, banjos, and basses. But recently it also led him to design his own line of guitars. "Basically, " he told us, "I took everything I know about old guitars - playability, what goes into them - and put that into a guitar. The result is guitars that look old, and sound old, but play like new. " The customers meandering through the store seemed to agree. Asked what he likes most about his job, Matt responded that his store is "like a bar without the alcohol. People come in, talk, commiserate. "In November of 2015, 30th Street Guitars moved from West 30th to its current location. With his loyal clientele and recognizable branding, Matt decided not to change the name of his shop, though he realizes it can be confusing. He loves his friendly new neighborhood. “It is the safest street in Manhattan, ” he explained, mainly due to the high security provided by FIT.
In 1983, the world was a very different place. That is obvious, maybe, but for the younger members of the Sideways team this reminder can be an important exercise in perspective. When Rogue Music opened, the Internet was not yet up-and-running and hip-hop had yet to really arrive as a cultural force. Fast-forward to the present and, of course, the Internet is omnipresent, inescapable, and rap is more mainstream than ever. Rogue, throughout it all, has maintained a steady approach. They sell a host of related music items – instruments, soundboards, mixers, speakers, amps – and offer repairs for dysfunctional equipment. The store is a haven for everything musical. We walked in and were pleasantly surprised by the placid noodlings of a salesman, Clay, playing a guitar melody for all the store to hear. The whole staff are musicians, each with an artistic side to match the professional knowhow. Engineer Brent McGlocklin, for example, played in Bailter Space, and was “huge in New Zealand. ” A fun twist: Rogue was instrumental in supplying early hip-hop artists with their gadgets. There is a wall full of mixers, synthesizers and samplers straight out of the golden era of hip-hop. Rogue has retained its appeal over the years. “People like to come and touch gear instead of buying it off the Internet, ” reasoned Clay. The air is thick with the contentment of people being exactly where they want to be. Plus, Clay explained that customers “can save a lot of money buying second-hand, and we offer a free month guarantee. If anything goes wrong, we can fix it. ” Elegant and honest, this philosophy is what has kept Rogue relevant.
Hailing from a family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu royalty, Renzo Gracie is not a good man with whom to make trouble. He is, however, a good man to train with, carrying several blackbelts and fight records, including bouts against past world champions. In 1995, while still an active (young) fighter, Gracie moved to New York and opened Renzo Gracie in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks north of its current location. Since then, the gym has moved south, added Muay Thai to its training acumen (as well as comprehensive MMA and boxing programs), and seen more than one world champion come to train.
Arriving from South Africa, Albertus Swanepoel attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, which led him to an apprenticeship and ultimately his own glove-making business. The appeal of gloves, however, was “incredibly limited, ” as most people wear them only seasonally. So, renaissance man that he is, Albertus switched gears and slid seamlessly into the world of hats. Now he is firmly entrenched in his new niche, and has been producing haute couture headwear since the 1990s. Grounding his practice in old-fashioned millinery traditions, but using techniques from multiple fashion disciplines, he is able to approach hats creatively and expertly. This is a must for a bold garment that can fall flat if not done stylishly. “I try to make things that people wear everyday and look cool but not nostalgic, ” Swanepoel explained. And New Yorkers are wearing his high-end hats across the city. Albertus has a very optimistic take on his environment: “I think that’s the great thing about Manhattan. There are so many people living here that you can almost do anything and people will want it. ”
“We wanted to be that diamond in the rough, ” explained Ashley, the co-owner of Blank Slate. When Ashley and Zach, spouses and co-owners, were searching for a location for their restaurant, they wanted to find a neighborhood with a large crowd but not a lot of quality spots to eat. Blank Slate is successfully that hidden gem located in NoMad, one of Manhattan’s up and coming neighborhoods. Blank Slate attracts a crowd full of young, creative professionals who are quickly changing the area. Ashley and Zach established Blank Slate, which opened in November of 2015, in an effort to create the first coffee-shop-restaurant hybrid in New York City. Ashley explains that they were tired of going to places that provided quality coffee but low quality food. She wanted a place that offered superb grab-n-go coffee as well as more formal dining where friends could meet for a long meal. Ashley and Zach’s vision has been realized. Blank Slate serves killer coffee as well as an impressive assortment of salads, sandwiches and even gourmet desserts. Their coffee is proudly served from farm to cup in close to 20 days. They have a sign at the cash register indicating the green date and roast date of the coffee being served that day. My intern, Emily, hesitantly tried their brussels sprout Caesar salad and only had positive things to say about it, even though she usually does not enjoy Brussels sprouts. Blank Slate also has a small but wonderfully curated market located inside the restaurant, which offers primarily locally sourced products such as cookie dough, yoghurts, pickles and a host of beverages. In addition to serving excellent coffee and food, Blank Slate has a fun, creative atmosphere. Ashley and Zach chose Blank Slate’s name because they wanted to convey the idea that people can make or create everything here. While customers wait in line for coffee, for example, there are etch-a-sketches on which to play. They even have Instagram competitions that reward one talented etch-a-sketcher with a free meal. Ashley hopes that Blank Slate can be a space for people to create. She explained that the etch-a-sketch sends a message: the “possibility of everything. "
In the race among Manhattan restaurants to attract customers, simplicity is sometimes lost. But not so in the Mason Jar, a restaurant and bar that keeps it old school with good vibes and great tastes. The southern, barbecue-heavy menu and extensive list of craft beers and bourbons speak for themselves, complete with suggested pairings. Each month, a new craft beer is featured in an effort to support small breweries. If these beers attract a following, they are added to the full-time roster. While visiting with some Sideways members, I had a lively conversation with chef about the different styles of barbecue - our North Carolinian team member swears by vinegar sauce and appreciated Mason Jar’s variety. The food is fresh and not overdone, but at the same time the Chef “puts love into it. ” The high quality meat is treated seriously - specialty ribs are coated with a dry rub, smoked using apple and hickory wood, braised, and mopped with a tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce. Then grilled. The brisket and boneless pork butts are given no less attention. Replete with wood, American Flags, and comfortable seating, Mason Jar also achieves a homey feel to match its Southern style. Many of the University of South Carolina alumni in Manhattan choose this spot as the venue to catch the Cocks football games, and Villanova basketball fans flock here for their games, as well. With the hearty food, good beers, and down-home feel, it is easy to understand why. To put it plainly and simply, Mason Jar was a good find.