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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000696.txt from 1999/01

Subj: [kl] Ponte's Music Store
Date: Fri, 15 Jan 1999 22:55:42 -0500

Ken Wolman asks: =

>I wonder if this kind of thing [rude and borderline dishonest treatment
>at Sam Ash] would have happened years back when 48th
>Street really WAS "Music Street" and there were stores like Ponte's. =

>The street is now a shadow of what it once was--maybe 1/3 of a block
>huddled down toward the 7th Avenue end--and there just isn't much left
>in the way of competition.

>I'm curious. There are surely some people here who were playing when
>Ponte's was still around. Was it as good as the legends suggest?

YES! His store was the best of a whole bunch of good ones. =

Manny's, which is now almost all electric guitars, synthesizers and drums=
had in the 60s and early 70s a huge stock of clarinets and people who kno=
about them. They would steal you blind if you didn't know what you were
doing, but I picked out a great R-13 Bb there that I played for 15 years.=

I go in there once in a while, but nobody knows anything, or seems to car=

There was McGinnis & Marks, where Jack Marks ran a music publishing
business as well as a fine instrument store. Whenever he found something=

interesting and out of print, he simply republished it. He was also a
superior craftsman. He set up a dial micrometer that looked primitive bu=
was much more convenient to use than anything made today. I still use mi=
every time a adjust reeds.

Around the corner on Broadway was the Brill Building, where there were
still song arrangers and composers scribbling in the dark, and a few floo=
up the Music Exchange, where they kept in stock the sheet music for every=

popular song ever written.

Charlie Ponte was the king of them all. He always had about 100 R-13 Bb
clarinets. You would go in there and David Shifrin would be down in the
basement picking out horns for his students. When I decided to get a
Buffet A clarinet, Charlie pulled out 30 for me to try. He always had at=

least two of everything -- 2 D clarinets, 2 tarogatos, 2 basset horns, 2
bass saxophones. He had somehow gotten a franchise to supply all the
clarinets for the New York World's Fair band, under his own logo. He mad=
every type imaginable, from Ab down to bass, and when the fair was over h=
took them all back and sold them off for next to nothing. They weren't
particularly good, but they were made of grenadilla and all of them were
playable. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't get an Ab, a D, a C and=

maybe a basset horn. He also had a gigantic box full of old metal
clarinets. You could take your pick for $20 -- $25 if you wanted it in
playing condition. He also had a bunch of really fine instruments. He h=
a magnificent Selmer bass clarinet that the NY Philharmonic (and everybod=
else) rented every time they needed an extra, and one of the best bariton=
saxes I've ever played (an ancient Buescher, I think), which he also rent=
out. Hanging on the wall, he had a left-handed flute, a 5-key boxwood
clarinet (which I bought from him when he closed the store), an Octinet (=
wood instrument folded like a bassoon with a barely conical bore, which
overblew at the octave and sounded like a cross between a clarinet and a
soprano sax) and a Bb clarinet with a metal barrel and bell in the shape =
an alto clarinet (truly awful, however). Tucked away in a drawer he had =
solid silver clarinet made by Haynes, the flute maker, a Bb/A pair of sol=
silver Bettony clarinets and who knows what else. He and his employees
knew exactly what they had and all the history, and all of them were good=

players. There were hundreds of tiny drawers with odd old things in them=

-- 90 year old gouged and folded english horn cane, whistles with a stuff=
canary on the end, which you filled with water for a pretty realistic
canary-like tone. He was constantly getting interesting things, like a
music box the size of a steamer trunk that played over a dozen tunes and
had a miniature orchestra inside. I once had a brainstorm that I wanted =
C clarinet, and I went there and told him. He said, "Well I have 3 of
them, and just yesterday I got a pristine pre-war Buffet that sat in a
closet for 50 years. You can have it for $300." I jumped at it, and it'=
the best clarinet I've ever played. (Kal Opperman thinks so too.) On
Saturday afternoons, he would close up the store and break out a bottle o=
scotch for everyone who happened to be there and regale you with funny
stories. He retired, sold off his store contents and moved out of town 2=
years ago. He was in his 70s then, so I doubt that he is still alive. I=

asked around about him a few years ago, but no one knew where he was. =

There was no place like it, even then, let alone today, and I don't think=

it could survive today. Sam Ash has an amazingly obnoxious anti-theft
system, where they make you open up every case and bag and register each
instrument, mouthpiece, ligature, swab and reed you bring in, and then
check it as you go out to make sure you're not stealing anything. All
Charlie had to do was take a brick, wrap it nicely and put it on the
counter next to the door for the occasional thief to grab. And then they=

were as interested in talking music as moving the product.

Ah for the good old days. When it came to Ponte's, they really were

Ken Shaw

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