In 1971, Stan Jay M’67 co-founded Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island, a company that became one of the world’s top sellers, buyers, and restorers of fine new and vintage American guitars, banjos, and mandolins. All kinds of aficionados and collectors, as well as great musicians including Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan — to name just a few — have visited Mandolin Brothers’ unassuming storefront. Up until his death on October 22, 2014, Jay made sure his customers’ dreams were fulfilled with the right musical instrument.
There are many fine guitar stores in New York City — in Manhattan. How did Jay come to place his world-famous shop in Staten Island? Wagner plays a large role in that story.
“In nearly every way, coming to Staten Island to matriculate at Wagner College changed his life and led him inexorably to his present level of achievement.”
In 1965, the New Jersey native finished his undergraduate degree in English and education at Penn State and came to Wagner for a master’s in education.
He knew a lot about Wagner because a close high school friend, Bob Zentmaier ’66, was a Wagner economics major. The two bonded over their love for music; they met in Hillside (N.J.) High School’s mixed chorus. Zentmaier’s brother owned Rondo Music in Union, New Jersey, where Jay worked during his summer breaks and bought his first guitar.
So it’s no wonder that, according to a 1989 letter Jay wrote to the Wagner director of alumni affairs, education wasn’t all he was up to during his graduate studies.
“He played and taught guitar privately while at Wagner,” Jay wrote (in a third-person narrative about himself), “hung out around and in the Hawk’s Nest, a snack bar in the basement of the Administration Building, met his first wife there and formed a musical group with her (Linda Gerhold), and Jack Smith, called The Smith Brothers. They played at coffee houses and clubs on and outside of campus, and attempted to obtain a recording contract with a major label, but failed.”
Jay went on to pursue an Ed.D. at Columbia’s Teachers College, while also developing his knowledge of vintage fretted instruments and their value during this time of the folk music craze.
“[He] taught music and arts courses for six years in the Performing and Creative Arts Department at Staten Island Community College,” the 1989 letter continues. “He met his second wife (Bea Berntsen) in an adult ed class he taught there, and founded, in 1971, a company [Mandolin Brothers]. …
“In many ways, in fact, in nearly every way, coming to Staten Island to matriculate at Wagner College changed his life and led him inexorably to his present level of achievement,” Jay concluded of himself. “He hopes that, at or near the turn of the century, his children will attend Wagner College and become worldly, articulate and sagacious from having done so.”
His children, Alison and Eric, didn’t follow in his footsteps to Wagner; but they are carrying on the business and upholding their father’s standards. [Update, February 21, 2017: It was announced on SILive.com that Alison and Eric sold the business to a “California-based avid collector and seller of fine stringed instruments.”]
By the way, it was yet another Wagner alumnus who influenced Zentmaier to choose Wagner: Edward Monkman ’58, economics teacher at Hillside High School. Mr. Monkman died in 2010, and Zentmaier reports that he and Jay lamented never having thanked him. “He got both of us to Staten Island and changed our lives,” says Zentmaier.