Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pawn Shops and the (Jazz) Underclasses

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.


Tiny Iota said...

online bulletin boards like craig's list are the new pawn shops. you can get some fantastic deals. in fact, i just sold an old signatone trumpet for $40. little did i know that it was worth much more.

Steve Provizer said...

You're part right about C.list, I'd say. For example, right now, I'm looking for a horn; looked at C.L. and saw something, but the owner lives far enough away that the horn might as well be in Beijing. Ok, slight exaggeration, but it sure ain't local, and that's what I'm talking about.

Chris Rich said...

You have to go beyond the vast Boston yuppie culture donut and visit old towns where yuppies lack bragging rights, Worcester maybe, Lawrence, New Bedford and Fall River or Springfield.

The spread of yuppie culture has been profoundly disruptive and now they ain't even really 'Young' urban professionals, I know...Muppies..."Mature" urban professionals.

Steve Provizer said...

Tiny Iota: I went to your myspace-really liked your music.

Chris Rich said...

Tiny is wonderful. His blog went inactive for a long time so he is in the link list of writers under Matt LeGroulx