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In my first encounter with the Sam Ash Music Store on Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn, N.Y.  I was in Seth Low Junior High School, now Middle School, leading a small combo consisting of alto sax, trumpet, drums, with me at the piano.  The trumpeter went onto first chair N.Y., Phil and the drummer was studio drummer Terry Snyder’s nephew.  So we had some pedigree and creds.  The trumpeter was the sight-transposer; I was learning that from him.  Snyder supplied us with all the 78 rpm jazz records we could carry.  My folks called it “popular” as opposed to classical.  It was from Terry that I learned it was jazz.  But I digress.

We were habitue’s of the Sam Ash store, to which we traveled from our Bensonhurst home by bicycle, for everything from manuscript paper to the hand percussion instruments, to which I later gravitated in the Catskill Mountain resorts, to the more sophisticated accouterments for the front line, i.e., sax and trumpet.  And repairs.  We dealt mostly with boss man Sam.  Everyone did.  His was a hands on operation.  As I remember there was someone dealing with stock.  Young Paul?

It wasn’t until many years later that I met Paul Ash  the scion of the Ash family who would succeed Sam as pres.   We would remain friends until his passing in 2014.  People would approach us to ask if we were related as we both had beards and were small of stature and we were both active in the jazz community, me as a writer and notorious hanger-out, and he having married one of jazz’s major progenitors and promoters Cobi Narita.  If truth be told, Paul helped support Cobi’s efforts to keep jazz alive and youth-functioning at her movable feast-cum-performance-spaces called “Cobi’s Place.”

Paul was a quiet presence wherever Cobi was, later her personal aid as she got around via wheelchair.  He was always smiling, while remaining in the background as Cobi did the greeting, more precisely as we greeted her as hers was a regal bearing whether at Flushing Town Hall where they hosted a grand table, or at the Duke Ellington Society meetings, or at Jazz Vespers and All Nite Soul at what is fast becoming the former Jazz Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran.

I always stayed back to talk with Paul who knew stuff.  It was from him that I learned that Terry Snyder, nee Schneiderman, was known as “Itchy” in the trade.  I never got to call him that.  When my children then grandchildren began playing instruments it was to Paul I turned for insights into what instruments to purchase.  He gave my son his first clarinet, a one piece metal affair.  Then I purchased a used Buffet from Sam Ash Stores through Paul’s aegis.  While visiting a Sam Ash store near their home in Orlando my grandson picked up a clarinet and began playing it!  Alas, neither grandson nor granddaughter play anything anymore.  He’s a Legos whizzbang; she’s a champion figure skater.

I continued to purchase items from Paul/Sam Ash Music such as bongos, congas and other smaller percussion “toys,” shakers, cabassas and the like, which still adorn my walls.  I found a cornet in the street –yes, I said found as someone was moving out– I turned to my friend Paul to ascertain its worth.  It wasn’t Satchmo’s or Bobby Hackett’s or anyone else famous.  He told me its worth and gave me the cost of repair.  I opted to use it as a demonstrator in my classes.

I still tell anyone who cares, and even those who don’t, that I was one degree of separation from Itchy Snyder.  Thanks to Paul Ash.

© March 2014 by arnold jay smith

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