By John Broven
On May 21, Stony Brook Village reverberated to the sounds of a New Orleans-style street parade to mark the opening of The Jazz Loft at 275 Christian Ave. That happy day brought to reality the dreams of president and founder Tom Manuel.
“In the brief seven months the Jazz Loft has been open we’ve been able to accomplish the goals of our mission well ahead of schedule,” Manuel said. “Our performance calendar has presented some of the finest local, national and international artists; our educational programming has established our pre-college Jazz Institute in collaboration with Stony Brook University; and Our Young at Heart program has introduced wonderful music therapy events to people with memory loss.
“In addition to all of this our lecture series, family concerts, sponsored concert series and acquisitions and installations of jazz memorabilia, art, photography and more are ongoing and ever growing.”
For establishing The Jazz Loft so quickly and effectively as a community resource, Manuel, a 37-year-old educator, historian and trumpet player, from St. James, is recognized by TBR News Media as a Person of the Year.
“Tom Manuel is a well-deserving nominee for Person of the Year,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “The Jazz Loft is an incredible gift to the 1st Council District. Tom’s passion for jazz has been transformed into a vivid, vibrant, collection of jazz history and a home for local talent, musicians and performances. In a short time, The Jazz Loft has become an incredible community space for art, history, culture and music.”
Visitors are able to view the loft’s museum exhibits featuring greats such as saxophonist Louis Jordan, the biggest African-American star of the 1940s and a massive influence on the ensuing rock ’n’ roll era; heartthrob blues and jazz crooner Arthur Prysock; upright bassist Lloyd Trotman, a prolific session musician who provided the bass line on Ben E. King’s anthem, “Stand by Me”; society bandleader Lester Lanin; and the seafaring vibraphonist and composer Teddy Charles.
Jean Prysock, of Searingtown, donated the memorabilia of her late husband Arthur Prysock, who played the top theaters and clubs from the 1940s onward and recorded for labels such as Decca, Mercury, Old Town and MGM-Verve. Why did she feel Manuel was worthy of support?
“He was young, he was enthusiastic, he was dedicated, he was sincere,” she said. “I first met him at a jazz bar in Patchogue. He led an 11-piece band, which sounded as if it could have played at New York’s Paramount Theatre.”
Apart from conducting bands, Manuel is an expert trumpet player, who credits among his inspirations Chet Baker, Warren Vache, Bobby Hackett, Harry “Sweets” Edison and Roy Eldridge. As an indication of the Jazz Loft’s authentic atmosphere, Manuel said the impressive three-tier bandstand was constructed from the original dance floor of the famed Roseland Ballroom on New York’s 52nd Street, adding, “It was an extreme labor of love, but certainly worth the effort.”
Manuel has directed a full program at The Jazz Loft while holding an adjunct post at Suffolk County Community College and a faculty position with Stony Brook University directing the jazz program of the Pre-College Music Division. If that’s not all, he has recently completed his doctorate, a DMA in jazz performance, at SBU and carried out charity work in Haiti.
“Tom is fully deserving of this award, not only for creating The Jazz Loft and making jazz available in our area, but also because of his remarkable spirit in bettering every community with which he engages,” Perry Goldstein, professor and chair at SBU’s Department of Music, said.
“He motivated seven volunteers to go to Haiti with him after the recent hurricane, where they distributed 200 pairs of sneakers, clothing and school supplies purchased through donations. Tom radiates positive energy in everything he does,” Goldstein said.
Manuel readily acknowledges the help of others in giving liftoff to The Jazz Loft, including board members Laura Vogelsberg and Laura Stiegelmaier, many musicians and sponsors Harlan and Olivia Fischer who “donated our sound system, which is quite outstanding.” Manuel’s philosophy is summarized by the title of his well-received talk at the Three Village Community Trust’s annual celebration, held at The Jazz Loft in November: “Collaboration: The Art of Possibility.”
The jazz facility is housed in a historic building, comprising the old Stone Jug tavern and the former firehouse station, which accommodated the first museum in Stony Brook, founded in 1935 by real estate broker and insurance agent O.C. Lempfert. With the backing of Ward and Dorothy Melville, the museum was formally incorporated as the Suffolk Museum in 1939 before evolving into today’s The Long Island Museum. The renovated building, which was accorded landmark status by the Town of Brookhaven in September, is leased long term to The Jazz Loft by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
“Tom Manuel is a unique individual who was born into a generation of musicians steeped in rock ’n’ roll, rap and new wave,” Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said. “I got to know Tom because of a[n] … article about a ‘young man’ with a house full of artifacts and memorabilia relating to the jazz era. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization owned a vacant building … and Tom had a collection in need of a home. A year later The Jazz Loft opened in Stony Brook, where Tom shares his love of jazz with like-minded musicians and fans. Tom is truly a role model for the concept of accomplishing your dream through passion and dedication. We are proud to welcome The Jazz Loft and Dr. Tom Manuel into our community.”