Meet a Sultan of Vinyl (and cool)
by rick olivares
“I think a part of the magic of music, of vinyl records, is the hunt for them. For new and great sounds. For good music.”
Jay Amante with his long hair flowing and in garb that wouldn’t be out of place in a grunge rock concert plants himself in a seat of his hidden jazz bar, 78-53-86, along Katipunan Avenue in West White Plains. It’s just across the Bellitudo building where Amante’s record shop, the Grey Market, also sits unobtrusively.
The audiophile who owns the Grey Market and 78-53-86 – (he named his bar after the family’s old telephone number) waxes equal parts sentimental and mystifying.
Like his jazz bar, Jay’s three record shops – located at the Bellitudo in White Plains, Salcedo Village, and somewhere in the labyrinth of Shoppesville, Greenhills – aren’t in spots that draw a lot of foot traffic. Yet, they are built and people come.
“It’s incredible to be a part of this vinyl revolution,” declares Amante. “It warms this old soul’s heart to see the medium I grew up loving flourishing this new millennium with lots and lots of new fans.”
“I have nothing against people downloading,” Jay ripostes of what was said to be the scourge of vinyl and compact discs. “There is room in this world for everybody. I just happen to be a fan of the physical medium.”
Amante’s love for music began as a youngster where he followed his older brother, John’s mobile group, Social Distortion. He was into a lot of stuff – grunge, jazz, post-punk. He cites the Cure, the Clash, New Order and David Sylvian’s art rockers, Japan as some of his favorites growing up.
“But the first record I ever bought for myself was Steely Dan’s “Gaucho”. In fact, I still have it to this day and in America, British, and Japanese pressings. It is far from my favorite album. While I like it, it is also sentimental.”
Yet even at a young age, Amante also got into jazz. Weather Report in particular. “I was listening to Weather Report’s ‘Heavy Weather’ record (the progressive jazz band’s most successful album ever) and that really stoked my love for jazz music.”
As he got older, Amante found himself ordering records from abroad, first for himself, then to share and sell. “I was posting them online for people to buy and I’m fortunate that I was already positioned before the current vinyl revolution.”
“However, I’d like to say that I merely followed the godfather’s of local record shops. You have Bob De Leon of Be Bop Records down at Makati Cinema Square who has been there since forever. You have the shops like Phoenix in Kamuning and many others including those in Cubao X. You have to appreciate that they stuck to their guns.”
Eventually, Amante put up the Grey Market some five years ago. “I am glad that I took a chance on it,” confesses Amante.
“The demand for vinyl today is intense,” he adds. “Whether for the old stock or re-issues, it’s crazy good. While the Grey Market is primarily a rock and jazz shop, we do sell a lot of other kinds of music from classical to pop to world music.”
“Through music, I have made more friends. There’s this unspoken thing at first when you come across a person rummaging through the bins. Obviously, he is a music fan. And that leads to a conversation and the conversation leads to friendship. You get things – the passion, the thrill of the hunt for certain records, and the music itself.”
And that leads to Amante’s new jazz bar.
“The bar is a very strange place,” laughs Amante. “I don’t serve food. Only drinks. Popcorn if you will. I have a very good bartender. Jonathan mixes the drinks, does the math, and selects the records that will be played. And I do have a very good sound system and a lot of jazz (and rock) records. In fact, close to 7,000 of them.”
Seven thousand that is only a part of Amante’s massive vinyl collection that adorns the wall of his bar. “The place is very comfortable and I think a lot of music fans will like it. And it is a great place to unwind, talk, drink, and listen to some great music.”
You just have to find it with the flourishing stretch of land along White Plains that used to be harsh for commercial ventures.
“The hunt,” sums up Amante. “Is part of the magic.”