One measure of the way things have been going for the jazz underclasses and the working poor in general over the last 20 years is to look at what's happened to pawn shops.
Pawn shops are like tidal wetlands. You take estuaries for granted until a weather catastrophe hits and your split-level gets washed out to sea. Look at New Orleans.
In the same way, when financial storms hit, pawnbrokers have been there to absorb some of the blow. They have allowed people to drop off property and either get ready cash, or pick it back up when flusher times return. With their disappearance, the financial tides have gotten rougher.
Jazz musicians have always been active users of the service. Sometimes a visit to the local pawnbroker could get you bus money back home when the tour went bust. In the case of Bird and many others, it was money that ended up in a dealer's pocket, but when you need a fix...
For musicians in less dire straits, keeping an eye open for a horn that might work just a little better-and what musician doesn't-pawn shops were the place to go. Over the years, I have bought a Schilke, a Benge, and a Paris Selmer-all cheap-at Cambridge pawn shops.
Unfortunately, in the space of a few ill-conceived years, Cambridge got rid of rent control, turned Harvard Square into a suburban mall and decided to close all its pawn shops; too scrofulous. Boston has relegated its pawn shops to 'the wrong side of town' and these carry almost no instruments. They're all about the bling.
This leaves only 2 alternatives here in Boston: pay retail at the one remaining music store that carries some used horns, or go online. Going online means you don't even have a chance to hold the horn and blow it.
As far as I can see, the online market is really skewed. The eBay trade has created a false "Antiques Roadshow" mentality wherein certain horns acquire a reputation based as much on "collectability" as on playability. Most playing musicians are not about collecting. We want to be able to go someplace, grab a few horns, go in the back room, blow for a few hours and either find something we like or not. If we do, a musician's price is what we want-and should-be able to pay, not a collector's price. Can I get a witness?
Then, there's the fact that in the few pawn shops left that carry instruments, all you can find are guitars. But that's another story.