By Gy Mirano
Wondering around one of my favorite New York neighborhoods, the West Village, I found the Music Inn. There’s nothing like getting lost in the historic cinematic streets, and being welcomed by period facades where classic New York jazz clubs, trendy boutiques, surviving mom and pop stores, and some of the most fun restaurants downtown are housed. On a recent fall afternoon I was, as usual, seeking the ultimate New York adventure, and found it when I stepped into the Music Inn. Low-lit and subdued, it can be easy to miss from across the street. It’s hard to believe this funky New York gem has been on West 4th Street since the late ‘50s. This music store is a musician’s spot for sure, and pure New York. The tight quarters are chock-a-block full with musical instruments—cascading from the ceilings, propped up against walls, and on any available surface—and rows and rows of visually and musically appealing records. Vinyls are coveted collector’s items; musicians know they are the ultimate cool. These relics still hold a powerful magnetism over new generations of musicians and music fans, and they serve as valuable documentation of our musical heritage.
The Music Inn was founded in 1958 by Gerald Halpern, a Korean war veteran, and bought from him by its current owner, artist in residence and musician Jeff Slatnick. As I have a soft spot for vets, it was moving to learn about the Music Inn’s founding owner when Mr. Slatnick sat to chat with me. Jeff started working at the store in the late 1960s, played guitar, bass sitar and other Indian instruments, and then, in an entrepreneurial move, bought the place from Mr. Halpern and has been the leading force behind it ever since. Today the two-level space is a real resource whether you are a professional musician or an amateur, a musical thrill-seeker, or a record collector interested in jazz, R&B, classic rock, world, Latin, funk, reggae or hip hop. This spot has been a musician’s resource for decades, where musical idols as varied as John Lennon, George Harrison, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, Aerosmith, and Coldman could drop by at any given moment. I can see why. Mr. Slatnick has a charming, welcoming presence, and a no-nonsense attitude; he is the ultimate New Yorker. He is also a dedicated artist, an iconic cultural advocate, and a father figure to the downtown music scene. He is not comfortable with the term “artist.” “Too pretentious,” he quickly adds when I allude to his being so. Yet he is one. His space is pure funk and pure art. His love for music jumps out from each instrument. He is what makes a community: open arms, open doors, open mic. A place to get together, peruse, jam, buy an instrument, take a class, or dust off your stand-up act and give it a shot at the tiny downstairs stage. A place where music workshops take place, and film crews shoot hot television shows. Just ask The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Jeff studied Indian classical music for many years under Ali Akbar Khan, and he became a teacher himself. His days at the Music Inn are about music, teaching, and creating a space for others to develop. “Advancement and fruitioning about,” he states matter-of-factly. As music moved from records, to cassettes, to CDs, and then digital downloads, he stayed put. Good thing he did. If you want to explore a New York classic, then a visit to the Music Inn is in order.
Music Inn 169 West 4th St., New York, NY
Gy Mirano is a New York actress and arts advocate. For more art news follow: https://www.instagram.com/