A sleepy corner of Stony Brook Village is now waking up to the sound of jazz. The building that was once the Suffolk Museum is now The Jazz Loft, a jazz museum, education center and performance space.
Tom Manuel is the man behind the renovation. A prolific musician, Manuel recently gained distinction for his private jazz collection. “I had this reputation. I’m a jazz musician, and I always wanted to hang with the old jazz guys, because, you know, who’s cooler than the old guys? They knew I appreciated their life’s work. So I put their stuff on display. I got the reputation as the guy to give stuff to.” Manuel amassed hundreds of instruments and artifacts. His collection includes the complete basement recording studio of jazz bassist Milt Hinton, and the bass from the recording of “Stand By Me.”
“I was already doing the museum thing,” Manuel says. “I just didn’t have the museum.” The reached out, informing Manuel that if he had the collection, they had the museum for him.
The Jazz Loft already has its share of fans. The building’s $500,000 restoration has been crowd-sourced from the community. “No one has given a huge amount,” says Manuel. “But people are giving, giving, giving. Our list of people who have donated is a mile long.”
The building itself is a piece of Stony Brook’s history. The main structure and performance hall, now christened Club Q, is the old town fire department. The other half of the building is The Stone Jug, a historic tavern that was immortalized by painter William Sidney Mount. In 1940, the buildings were converted into the Suffolk Museum (now the Long Island Museum), but were abandoned as the museum outgrew the space. Manuel has preserved as much of the original buildings as possible. At the same time, he’s bringing in new histories, specifically from New York City’s jazz scene. Club Q’s bandstand is made from the dance floor of New York’s Roseland Ballroom. The green railing of jazz club Jimmy Ryan’s is ringing the bar, with Edison Ballroom chandeliers hanging above.
The Jazz Loft isn’t just a museum and performance space. It also hopes to contribute to local music education. “Some older people complain about kids having bad taste in music,” Manuel says. “But, kids just haven’t been exposed to different genres. When I introduce a kid to jazz, I never hear ‘thanks, but no thanks.’” In addition to teaching children, the Jazz Loft will collaborate with Stony Brook University Hospital to bring music therapy to veterans, and to people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Manuel also hopes to begin a class specifically for older people who once played instruments, but haven’t played in years. There will be classes for all levels of musicianship.
But most of all, Manuel hopes to use the Jazz Loft as a way to give back. “We live in this beautiful village with fantastic schools, but some places aren’t so lucky,” Manuel says. “I’m thinking, give kids concerts for free. Give them a field trip. Let them have fun.” Club Q will be teaming up with Stony Brook University’s radio station to live-stream performances to the public. And, any profits made by The Jazz Loft will fund two music schools Manuel founded, one in Liberia, and another in Haiti.
Stony Brook is undergoing a cultural rebirth, and The Jazz Loft is at the center of the revival. “This stuff, it’s the story of jazz,” says Manuel. “It’ll be cool to see it finally have a home… nothing, nothing beats music live. You feel the music, the energy, the applause. That’s priceless….nothing beats the real thing.”
Nowadays the real thing is in Stony Brook Village, playing across Roseland Ballroom floors. It’s a medley of one man’s passion, one genre’s history and one community’s dedication to the past and the future.
The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue, Stony Brook. Visit wmho.org/the-jazz-loft to donate.