Jane Jarvis: The Mets’ One and Only Organist
Previewing my salute to Jane Jarvis at the Hofstra Conference Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the New York Mets
From Thursday April 26 through Saturday April 28 Hofstra University will be holding a conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the New York Mets.
A legion of scholars, writers, bloggers, and just plain ardent fans plan to gather at the Hempstead, Long Island campus located not much more than a Dave Kingman home run from the Mets’ home turf in Flushing, Queens. (By the way, irrepressible baseball and travel writer Charlie Vascellaro will be giving a talk on Kingman’s Mets exploits on opening night.) One of the conference highlights promises to be a banquet address on Friday night by Rusty Staub, “Le Grand Orange” of the Montreal Expos who became a key player on the 1973 Mets pennant-winners and a fan favorite who for years owned the popular Manhattan restaurant Rusty’s.
My contribution will be a 9AM talk on Friday the 27th that I’m calling “Remembering Jane Jarvis: The Mets’ One and Only Organist.” It will be hard to compress into 20 minutes the amazing life story of a woman who lived 94 full years. Growing up in the Jazz Age of the 1920s in the bucolic small town of Vincennes in southern Indiana, Jane was a prodigy on both piano and organ. By the age of 11 relocated with her family in Gary, Indiana near Chicago, she was playing nightly on the radio and accompanying in music halls such great touring stars as singer Ethel Waters and George “Toastmaster General of the United States” Jessel.
Surviving the horrible blow of losing both parents in an automobile accident when she was only 14, Jane, an only child, emerged as a well-known versatile musician and radio personality throughout the Midwest. After World War II she landed in Milwaukee with her chiropractor/husband and quickly became the most sought-after pianist and organist in town.
In 1954 she was hired by the Milwaukee Braves to play the County Stadium organ in the second year of their wildly successful emigration from Boston. The only problem was that Jane had never been to a baseball game. She became a quick learner and devoted lover of the sport and in 1957 and 1958 was thrilled to play for two consecutive Milwaukee National League pennant winners.
After the 1962 season she took the giant leap most ambitious musicians have to make, moving to New York. She found a day job as a music programmer for Muzak, quickly rising up the corporate ladder to vice-president for programming for the so-called “elevator music” company. When the Mets prepared to move into their brand-new Shea Stadium in 1964 they hired Jane and for the next 16 seasons she memorably entertained fans, executives, players and anyone who wanted to experience pleasure from listening to the distinctly melodious and harmonic sounds from her keyboard.
When the Mets were bad in their early years, and they often were very bad, her renditions of “Just One of Those Things” after a strikeout or “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile” after another loss provided great consolation. The optimism her music exuded encouraged fans to come back and try again to root for a win.
When the Miracle Mets won it all in 1969 Jane delighted players and fans with choruses of “Mr. Wonderful” for pitcher Tom “Terrific” Seaver and “My Buddy” for the Mets’ diminutive shortstop Bud Harrelson, a Californian who now calls Long Island home and who will be part of a panel with teammates Ed Kranepool and Art Shamsky on Friday afternoon the 27th.
During the 1973 National League Championship Series (better known as the playoffs), Jane’s playing of her “Prayer for Peace” written during the Vietnam war helped calm the crowd during the brawl that Pete Rose instigated with Harrelson. Without her soothing sounds the umpires could have forfeited the game to Cincinnati.
On the night of the New York City blackout in July 1977 Jane was acclaimed for
playing recognizable songs for over 90 minutes non-stop to allay the fears of over 20,000 fans gathered at Shea. After Jarvis left baseball in 1979 she fulfilled her dream of playing jazz regularly in New York and around the world. During one Banner Day at old Shea, a bedsheet said it all: “Jane Jarvis Mets Most Valuable Player.”
The Mets’ golden anniversary conference is dedicated to the memory of Hofstra English professor Dana Brand, a renowned American literary critic and author of two books on the Mets who passed away suddenly last year. While a graduate student at Yale Brand studied with the late Bart Giamatti who went from his Italian literature professorship and university presidency to become baseball commissioner.
Brand once wrote about a frigid afternoon talking baseball after class with Giamatti and another professor: “We knew that we didn’t understand our love of sports any more than anyone else. But we were happy to stand out in the cold and share the fact that we loved it.” That spirit of sharing and caring should certainly be on display throughout the first conference ever devoted entirely to one team. For further information contact www.hofstra.edu/mets
ONE OTHER PROGRAM NOTE: Through May 13 the Bronx Museum of the Arts, located just a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium on the Grand Concourse and 166th Street, is hosting an exhibit “Baseball In The Bronx,” covering the gamut of activity from little league to amateur to college to, of course, the history of the Yankees. The private collection of Mrs. Elston Howard – widow of the Yankee’s first African-American player – is one of the features. Museum hours are Thursday through Sunday 11-6. Admission is free. Further information at bronxmuseum.org
Recently reopened on the west side of the Grand Concourse at 167th Street is the Andrew Freedman mansion, a remarkable structure built in the 1920s by the estate of Andrew Freedman, the onetime owner of the New York baseball Giants. Hours are Thursday through Sunday 1-7, admission also free.
Just remember: Whether you are playing, watching or touring our great city of New York, Take it easy but take it!