05/30/2008 10:43 AM ET
Mets legend hopes she is remembered
Organist Jarvis has fond memories of her years at Shea
By Barry Wittenstein / SNY.tv
Jane Jarvis served as the Shea Stadium organist from when the park opened in 1964 until 1979. (New York Mets)

"Jane Jarvis at the Thomas Organ."

To Mets fans from 1964 to 1979, hearing those words before, during and after games at Shea Stadium became just about as identifiable a phrase as Tug McGraw's "Ya Gotta Believe!" and Bob Murphy's "Happy Recap."

"The melodies that sprung from Jane Jarvis' Thomas Organ were the true sounds of Shea," said Mets announcer Gary Cohen, who attended many games in the upper deck in his youth and heard Ms. Jarvis entertain fans with classics like "Meet The Mets" and "The Mexican Hat Dance."

"It made you feel that everything was possible."

For Jarvis, too, it was a special experience.

"I was so inspired by the wonderful joyfulness of the fans and the players," she said. "And the pride people had in that new stadium. They'd say to each other, 'Have you been out to Shea Stadium to see a game this year?'"

But after 16 wonderful years -- as the Mets went from National League doormats to world champions and back again -- her role was eliminated. From that moment on, the name Jane Jarvis was rarely heard in Flushing.

Then in late March, after more than a quarter of a century gone from the baseball spotlight, there she was in the news again when a construction crane fell onto and destroyed a building adjacent to her residence on 50th Street in Manhattan.

It was a traumatic event for Jarvis, who had to leave the comfort and safety of her home for temporary housing in various hotels until friends found her permanent residence in the Actor's Home in Englewood, N.J., where she currently resides.

But the silver lining was already apparent: Had it not been for the news of her proximity to the accident, an entire generation of Mets fans might not have heard of her again or been able to learn of her years before and after her tenure at Shea.


"That would make me the happiest person on this earth."
-- Jane Jarvis on being invited back to Shea

Born in Indiana and a child prodigy at five, she tragically lost both parents in a train accident in 1929 when she was 13 and was forced to raise herself without much family support. Luckily, Jarvis was befriended by musical friends like Georgia Carmichael (Hoagy's sister) and eventually studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.

Her career took her to radio stations where she had her own program, "Jivin' with Jane," and to the Milwaukee Braves where she became their organist. It was then onto the Big Apple where she worked as a staff composer, arranger and executive for the Muzak Corporation.

In 1964, the Mets needed an organist for their new stadium and asked around about the best one in town. They were told, "Jarvis." She auditioned and was hired on the spot.

"I think early Mets management was aware that organist Gladys Goodding had a great following when she played at Ebbets Field," said author, baseball historian and jazz aficionado Lee Lowenfish, "and in hiring Jane they were smart to draw on another Brooklyn Dodger tradition."

Jarvis soon established herself as a member of the group of great ballpark organists that included the late Eddie Layton of the Yankees. Yet, even among them, she had a distinctive approach and repertoire that was solidly ensconced in a musical world she had studied for decades.

"Her style was a bit different from most other ballpark organists, owing to her background as a jazz musician," said Mets radio announcer Howie Rose who, like Cohen, grew up rooting for the Amazins and listening to Jarvis.

"I played all jazz tunes at Shea," she said. "There were people playing jazz tunes on the organ, but they weren't playing jazz. I was the only one."

To wit, Jarvis added: "I was the best damn organist that ever played at Shea Stadium."

Her skills and stamina were tested on the night of July 13, 1977, the New York City blackout.

In the sixth inning during a Mets-Cubs game, after lights flickered then fell dark, stadium auxiliary power provided whatever little electricity was available. Somehow, the Thomas Organ remained on, and Jarvis played for hours hoping to keep the crowd entertained and calm.

"I was literally playing in the dark," she said, thinking back on that long night when she even resorted to playing Christmas songs. "I couldn't see. But I can tell you right now, I was scared; I didn't know if my playing was sufficient (to keep the crowd relaxed)."

But it was the people she met, even more than any specific event, whom she still remembers most fondly, like the the original announcing team of Bob Murphy ("We were such good friends"), Lindsay Nelson ("A charming man who had such tragedy in his life") and Ralph Kiner ("Whenever he was honored. he made sure I was invited").

In 1980, when the Payson/de Roulet family sold the Mets to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, the new regime inherited a team and stadium in disrepair and decided a change was in order. That included Jarvis.

"It was Frank Cashen's idea to remove the organ altogether after he took over as general manager in 1980," said Rose.

She was let go, replaced by the prerecorded music and sound effects that fill most of the Major League Baseball parks to today. (Wrigley Field's, Yankee Stadium's and a few other organs have escaped the onslaught.)

Yes, maybe gone from the baseball scene, but followers of the jazz scene knew she never left.

Jarvis continued to be a mainstay around the New York City club scene, often appearing at Zinno's in the Village with some of the top bassists of the era, recording two albums and making a name for herself.

 

In 1990, John S. Wilson of The New York Times wrote of her performance there, "Miss Jarvis is now a strong musical personality in her own right who can take the most familiar jazz material and move it in a strong, fresh direction."

Although Jarvis' career as a respected jazz pianist, performer and arranger was longer than the years behind the Thomas organ, it is at Shea where she earned most of her fame and developed her largest fan base.

"Jane had a delightful way of keeping the fans entertained," said Cohen, "But most important, there was a certain predictability to her selections that made you feel comfortable like your mom's pot roast."

"Jane Jarvis was a staple. Her music was an integral part of the Shea experience; clearly one of it's signatures," said Rose, who once played a recording of Jarvis for former Met Bud Harrelson only to have Harrelson tear up. "That's how much a part of the fabric she and her music were," Rose explains.

Now, as the Citi Field construction cranes continue their daily work beyond the outfield fence building a new monument to history and memory, the Mets are honoring those who made a significant contribution to the team's 44 years since moving from the Polo Grounds.

"I can't even bear to even think about it," she said, her voice filling with the emotion as she speaks about the Shea's final season. "All the memories that go with it."

The question now is whether the organization feels just as warmly about Jarvis.

"The current management group doesn't have any special feeling toward me," Jarvis said. "But I would love [to be a part of that countdown] celebration. You can't imagine what that would mean to me. I'm very frail, and I would have to have somebody walk with me.

"I think it would be wonderful if she were welcomed back as part of the countdown, or, even better, if she had a chance to play her music one last time at Shea " said Rose.

"You must remember," Jarvis said, apologizing for occasionally forgetting a name or a date, "I'm 93. It isn't that I'm senile or anything. It's just that all of this took place so long ago."

"But, you know," she adds innocently in Mets lexicon, "I've had an amazing life."

Jane Jarvis will be a part of a program at the Lincoln Center library called "Baseball and Music" on Tuesday, July 8.

Barry Wittenstein is an editorial producer for SNY.tv.
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