The Heart Of Our Story

Though our official journey began in 1983, the heart of our story traces back to the bustling music scene of 1930s New York City.

Is Everybody Happy?

In the 1930s, as it is today, New York City was a Mecca for musicians. It was a time when midtown was ablaze with music ranging from saxophone pioneer Charlie Parker to the NY Philharmonic under the baton of Maestro Arturo Toscanini. Though not quite at that elite level as a player, Charles Ponte was the English hornist of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra as well as a member of the Paul Whiteman, Les Brown, and Ted Lewis Bands. His big band sax sound and ability to play the elusive double reeds helped him become quite well-known among musicians throughout NYC in the 1930s and 1940s.
Charlie played with or was friends with Lester Young, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Harold Gomberg, Samuel Baron, and dozens more of the world’s finest musicians from all genres. Charlie, Benny Fairbanks, and Sam Shapiro became close friends while playing with major big bands. The three of them appeared together as members of the Ted Lewis Band in the Abbott and Costello classic “Hold that Ghost”.
Charles Ponte and Ted Brown

Charlie and all his instruments with Ted Lewis in the 1950’s. His famous tagline was “Is Everybody Happy?”

Anybody Got A Dime?

From the 1930s through the 1970s, West 48th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues was the block to be on if you were a top woodwind repairmen or had a music store for professionals in Manhattan. Broadway theatres, Carnegie Hall, and later, Lincoln Center were all nearby. It was a natural spot for all kinds of musicians to gather between matinees and after shows or performances.
Charlie, Benny, and Sam decided that although they loved performing, being on the road and working late into the night was too disruptive to home life with their new families. They talked about starting a new store on 48th Street for woodwinds and strings, but nothing came of it. Big band road tours called both Sam and Benny away for months at a time while Charlie, at home in New York playing at Radio City, kept thinking about their plans for a store.
Jean Harlow and Charlie Ponte

The inscription on this photo reads: “To Charles Ponte, with my heartiest good wishes, Sincerely, Jean Harlow. Anybody got a dime?”

Here’s An Oboe, Learn To Play It

Not very long after, Charlie rented a room on West 48th Street from Linx and Long, a venerable woodwind music store, and started selling whatever instruments he could buy and fix up. Since half the musicians in New York knew and loved him, his shop quickly became the place for premier players to hang out. Hordes of younger musicians who emulated those players followed soon after.
Among those younger players were some of the giants of today. One story that I’ve heard a dozen people repeat (including the player himself) concerns a then-young musician who was trying to break into the music scene on clarinet but wanted to double on oboe and had no money to buy one. He was casually talking about this with Charlie, expecting only a sympathetic ear. What he got was a brand new Ponte brand oboe which Charlie had just completed and gave him on the spot. “When you make your first money with this oboe”, Charlie said, “then you think about paying for it, till then – practice.” The player was Phil Bodner.  They became life-long friends and Phil was one of the finest doublers ever to play in New York. Look for his credits everywhere from Sinatra to Steely Dan including notable jazz gigs with Benny Goodman (1955), the Gil Evans Orchestra with Miles Davis (1958), Oliver Nelson (1962), J.J. Johnson (1965-68), and Bill Evans (1974).
The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling! – arbors-records inc

Brothers And Friends

To keep up with the growing demand, Charlie started buying new instruments to sell, then accessories, then double reed equipment, strings, guitars, tubas – anything and everything musical. His shop expanded tremendously and virtually exploded out of Linx and Long. In 1947, he rented his own store on West 48th Street with an internally lit “Charles Ponte Music Company” sign proudly swinging outside. Inside was growing the largest and strangest conglomeration of musical instrument supplies and parts that has perhaps ever existed in one place. Charlie’s younger brother Frank, a working trumpet player, came to join him around this time. Benny and Sam stayed on the road for a few more years, but as the big bands began to die out, they also joined up with Charlie and there began a relationship that lasted the rest of their lives.
The store name stayed Ponte’s, but they were a team. Growth was exponential and the store gained an international reputation as touring musicians from all around the world stopped by during their New York performances. They brought word back to their colleagues of this wonderful “musicians candy shop”, run by and for musicians.

Ponte Music Company in the 1970's

Charlie Ponte and Frank Ponte at Ponte Music Company in the 1970s.

Good Will

Few knew that during this time, billionaire Paul Mellon invited Charlie to help him develop music schools in Haiti. They worked together for years, and Charlie donated thousands of dollars of musical instruments and a lot of his time to this project. They remained lifelong friends.

With the guidance of his friend, billionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon, Charlie Ponte donated instruments and gave jobs to Haitians as oboe and bassoon reed makers!

How Many Saxophones Can You Fit In A Basement?

Through the 50’s and 60’s, as development began to infringe on jazz’s famed 52nd Street and the Music Row of 48th Street, Charlie held fast, growing his business in the same small Manhattan four-story building with storefront which he now owned. Finally, with parking garages and office towers going up on all sides of their buildings, most of the stores were forced to relocate. Some closed their doors forever. Among them, the venerated Linx and Long. Others sold to corporations, among them Sam Ash which continues to this day as an online mega-store.
Charlie was offered incentives by the city to move to make way for development. They offered him a 5-story, 21-foot-wide building two blocks South on West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, right on the edge of Times Square. As the story went, he was required to pay $1.00 to make it official. A few of the other long-time shops had moved to that block so there was some remnant of the old feeling there. Here, Charlie, Benny, and Sam continued to prosper and fill their store with friends.
With his new shop, and a more useful basement, Charlie stocked dozens of the latest high-end instruments for his professional patrons. I recall seeing dozens of Selmer Mark VI saxophones, top pro tubas, trombones, trumpets, and much more in the cramped basement below the selling floor. Top players came in almost daily to test out the instruments downstairs.
Sonny Rollins was a regular visitor

Sonny Rollins visited weekly to try out instrument after instrument Gerry Mulligan was a regular 

The Ponte Knife (Now The Charles Knife)

When I (Brian) met Charlie, Benny, and Sam in 1969, I was still in junior high school and simply needed some oboe cane and a reed knife to learn how to make oboe reeds. My first teacher, Merrill Greenberg who later led a vibrant career in the Israeli Philharmonic, was attending Juilliard and had me stop at Ponte’s for supplies. I got myself a Ponte Knife (now called the Charles knife) and some Prestini cane. It was a candy store for musicians! From then on, I visited often for supplies and shared the intense reverence for the place that many felt.
Merrill Greenberg, English hornist of the Israeli Philharmonic

Merrill Greenberg on tour in India. He was English Hornist with the Israeli Philharmonic for over thirty years.


After 2 years of very effective study with Merrill, I went on to take lessons with Jerome Roth, 2nd Oboist (ret.) of the New York Philharmonic for two additional years. A sweet and brilliant man, and his devotion to his students seemed endless.
For college, I gained acceptance to the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard School as a scholarship student of Harold Gomberg. This was the fulfillment of a dream I had had since the day I first saw Mr. Gomberg play with the NY Philharmonic when I was in 7th grade. As a direct result of that performance, I started playing oboe about a month later. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Gomberg was principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic for over 30 years and, fortuitously (as you’ll soon see), an old buddy of Charlie Ponte. I treasure the time I spent studying with Mr. Gomberg.
Jerome Roth was Brian Charles' second teacher. He was 2nd oboe of the NY Philharmonic for many years

Jerry Roth was a founding member of the New York Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet, a great oboist, and a gifted teacher.

The 11th Avenue Police Impound Lot

One afternoon, during my first semester at school, I drove from Long Island in my father’s prized gold-colored Rambler American and left it parked in front of Ponte’s. I rushed in to pick up my oboe which had been worked on by repairman, Pedro Rivera. I walked briskly to the back room of the long narrow storefront. Directly in my path at the repair department stood Charlie and Mr. Gomberg. Both turned around to acknowledge me. I was intimidated and self-aware. They had gotten to talking about me because Gomberg had recognized my oboe as the one being prepped for me to pick up. It was his main performance oboe before he sold it to me, so he recognized the peculiarities of this particular Loree, number BI-37.
Gomberg asked me to play it right there to test it out. For a good 15 minutes, he and I took turns playing the oboe with Pedro doing a few minor revisions to the repair work. As usual, I was in complete awe of Gomberg’s playing and walked with him to the front door as he left to get to Lincoln Center for a performance. I waved goodbye without revealing the knot in the pit of my stomach as I realized that the car had been towed away and was likely on its way to the 11th Avenue Police lot. Many hours and many dollars later, I retrieved it, and headed home exhausted but with a great story to tell.
Faye Parr (Charlie’s girlfriend, and Pedro Rivera, woodwind repairman 
Harold Gomberg was Brian Charles' primary teacher

When Harold Gomberg called my parent’s home looking for me, he would announce himself to my mother by saying “This is Harold Gomberg of the New York Philharmonic”. Here seen with his brother Ralph, who also studied with Tabuteau, and led a highly successful career as principal oboe of the Boston Symphony.

10,000 Reeds

When Gomberg left, I went back into the store to make a call and track down the car. Charlie walked up to me and shocked me by asking if I was interested in a job making reeds in his shop starting right away. Being like most double reed players, I viewed reed-making as a curse, so I replied, tentatively, “I’m not sure, can you give me a day?” I called my dad to get his opinion. He thought this could be a good thing, if didn’t interfere with my studies. “And by the way,” he asked, “how’s my car?”
As you can guess, I took the job, and over the 5 years that followed, I made thousands of reeds and I learned much more than I could have ever imagined. My schedule at Ponte’s was 3 days a week, 7 hours a day while continuing my studies. This left little time for anything else, but I was over the moon and enjoying every moment.
The interior of the 48th Street store with Charlie in the left foreground, and Benny Fairbanks further down on the left behind the counter.
Silvano Prestini, a major manufacturer of double reed cane, was a regular visitor

Fired And Hired And Fired And Hired

I started my solo playing career on a 6-week tour of the countries on the Indian Ocean the next summer as oboe soloist with the Long Island Youth Orchestra. Charlie was furious that I was going to be away for 6 weeks and fired and re-hired me twice in the weeks before I left. Finally, he fired me again on the last morning before I was to leave.
I returned 6 weeks later, tired but feeling full from a successful tour. I showed up at his shop the next morning. Without so much as a nod, he told me that I made lousy reeds and I had better get back to that desk and start making them.
The Long Island Youth Orchestra

The Long Island Youth Orchestra performs worldwide.

The End Is The Beginning

In 1983 at the age of 85, Charlie decided to retire. He had slowed down a lot, and when his daughter and family in the Midwest invited him to live there, he took the opportunity to bid farewell. As things were winding down, Benny, Sam, Charlie’s brother Frank, a trumpet player who ran the brass department, and Harry Nifik, the cranky sax repairman who worked on the second floor all decided to retire, too.
I was going to move along as well, pursuing the performance career I had embarked on years prior when Charlie made me an offer. For a nominal fee, he would pass along the entire double reed side of his business for me to take on and make my own. This was out of left field, and nothing I had ever sought. I spoke with many family and friends about this, and my father-in-law was adamant that I should do it. He eventually convinced me, loaned me the money, and helped guide me in how to start such an ambitious project.
Charlie in later years, relaxing in his 5th floor apartment above the shop
The very first price list for Charles Double Reed Company

The Next Generation

Charlie had reserved the entire double reed department for me and allowed me to use his storefront for half a year while he closed down the business and I got myself settled, juggling a business and music performance career.
Just as the building was about to be transferred to its new owners (a Dominican fruit store), I took a leap of faith and changed what had been a storefront for decades into a mail-order business. I renamed it Charles Double Reed Company and moved it to our living room. I moved the cabinets, tools, products, and the rest of the double reed stuff to the now overstuffed living room of my apartment in Brooklyn.
Charlie retired to Indiana, living with his daughter and her family until he passed away in 1990. Charles Double Reed Company started with the names and addresses of 600 double reed players that I collected in those last 6 months at Charlie’s storefront.

Back to New York City And Repair

Within a few months, I had more orders than I could possibly handle. Some double reed friends were happy to work with me and we became a wonderful team. That first crew grew the business in the tiny space until it virtually exploded out of the living room and took over the kitchen and the bedroom. It was apparent that Charles Double Reed Company couldn’t stay at my apartment any longer. In another leap of faith, I relocated the shop to a loft space on West 28th Street off Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. We were located on what is known as “The Flower Block” which supplies most of the fancy arrangements and foliage for the city’s hotels, and well-to-do. It was a bustling street, busy from 3 in the morning until late in the afternoon and although we were in Manhattan, it felt like a very safe and well-guarded location. Plus, it smelled very nice.
We had a huge safe for the dozens of instruments we now stocked, and a stunning view from the Chrysler building to the former World Trade Towers. Double reed players from around the world visited us when they toured in New York. We had members of every major symphony orchestra in the world stop by and become customers and friends.
I had been repairing instruments as favors for friends for years and eventually the word got out. I got requests to replace pads, and make small adjustments on the fly, and it began to build steam. I had attended classes and apprenticed starting with Pedro Rivera back in Ponte’s old shop, but this is about when I began to see that this would be a good way for me to progress. I began learning the art of double reed repair in earnest, and continue to refine and grow my abilities every day.
Brian at the repair workbench
Recognition came in various ways, including this cover article from a trade magazine

We Were Online Before Amazon, Seriously

After that first flyer, I saw the need for us to develop a full catalog. We created small ones at first with the help of an acquaintance who was a professional typesetter. Typesetting was the modern and historical method for creating text on paper, one handset letter at a time. Typewriters were good for smaller projects without photos, but typesetting was required for catalogs. Within a few years, we were turning out a full color 50-page catalog every year which was hand-stamped and mailed to our now thousands of customers around the country. Our typesetter saw the writing on the wall and clued me in that it was time for me to learn how to do this myself on a computer as he was retiring. I bought an IBM PC with an orange mono-color screen and a whopping 64K of memory and two floppy disk drives for an absurdly large amount of money. I used something called ImagePro which eventually grew and was renamed Photoshop. I also transferred thousands of our customers addresses from 3×5 index cards to a spreadsheet program called Lotus 1-2-3, which was the program in use before Excel.
As the years progressed, I became fascinated by the brand new thing called HTML (the code for making websites) and the idea that the internet could take the place of catalogs. Happily, for us, the first to use the Internet for purchasing were the military and Universities. They were also large purchasers of double reed instruments and reed making materials for their bands, and music departments, so it was a natural fit.
I became proficient in HTML and a variety of other coding languages and started a little 2 page website for Charles Double Reed Company. Within a few months, I had worked out how to give access to customers who wanted to place orders via email. We were on AOL at the time, so things were pretty rudimentary. Eventually, “you’ve got mail”, also meant you’ve got orders. This was around 1992, a full three years before Amazon first accepted online orders.
An early screenshot of our website

So There I Was

Over the next few years, the Internet became the major form of sales and communication for us bringing in about 85% of all our orders. Our lease was coming up on our business space and the apartment I shared with my spouse in Queens, and it was time to decide how to move forward. The short story is that we renewed the business lease and sublet that space with the idea that we might move back, we dropped our apartment lease, my spouse quit her job, and we jumped off a cliff and landed in beautiful North Conway, New Hampshire. My next catalog and the website had the new address, and business continued as usual.
We were welcomed with open arms here in the North Country and made the front page of the local newspaper. We’ve been in North Conway for about 30 years now. It’s a beautiful and busy 4 season resort area with 7 nearby ski resorts and a thriving music scene. We welcome visitors to stop by, try some instruments, and then hike and ski or shop in one of the tax free brand name outlet shops.
An article in the Conway Daily Sun announcing our arrival

Another Music Shop

Over the years, local folks from the Mount Washington Valley came to the double reed store hoping to find guitar strings, clarinet reeds, and other basic materials. To answer that unfilled need, I started a second music store which we called North Conway Music Center. While not my first love, this store offered all the basics for local performers, teachers, and schools including band instrument rentals, lessons, repairs, and a wide choice of guitars, brass, keyboards and the like. I based it on the full-line music stores of 48th Street just like back in my New York City days. Without another full line store in a 50 mile radius, that shop did well.
There was a need for repair of instruments other than double reeds, so I took on the task of learning the skills of an all-around instrument tech, and eventually trained apprentices so I could return my focus to oboe and bassoon. After 15 years of business, sold that second shop to the manager, and it continues to proudly and successfully offer the goods and services needed by local musicians, students, and visitors to the Mount Washington Valley area of New Hampshire.
As of this writing (early 2024) both shops occupy the same location.
The current location of both North Conway Music Center and Charles Double Reed Company

There’s More To Come

Charles Double Reed Company has grown exponentially since its founding and continues to advance, serving double reed players in all 50 U.S. States and 160 other countries.
It is with great respect and pride that I carry on the prestigious Charles Ponte tradition.

Brian Charles Founder/Director

Brian Charles

Charles Double Reed Company

We are VERY interested in acquiring photographs and memorabilia from the heyday of New York’s Tin Pan Alley, 52nd Street Jazz Scene, and West 48th Street Music Row. If you have anything or can provide a lead, please contact

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