Monday, May 31, 2010

R.I.P. Jane Jarvis and the American Pastime

On January 25th of this year, accomplished jazz pianist Jane Jarvis passed away at the age of ninety-four. Although she was tickling the ivories in Manhattan hot spots almost until the day she died, I never heard her play in jazz clubs. Jazz rhythms and sounds just don’t electrify my synapses the way they do aficionados of the genre. For me, Jarvis’s genius was on display while serving as the New York Mets organist. With genuine aplomb, the "Queen of Melody" played her "Thomas organ" at Shea Stadium from 1964 through 1979.

While I wouldn’t walk a mile for a Camel; I would walk five miles, up hill, for a “Best of Jane Jarvis Organ Hits" CD. Jarvis's Big Shea organ repertoire included a few jazz tunes, like "Scrapple from the Apple," along with many familiar standards. But she also composed original music, including a memorable melody she played before the Mets took the field for the first time at each home game. Its impeccable timing met the moment, if you will, as did her select tunes for individual players. When reliever Skip Lockwood entered a game, both he and the fans at the ballpark, as well as those watching on television and listening on the radio, were serenaded with the maestro’s "Skip to My Lou." Her seventh inning stretch favorite was a unique version of the "Mexican Hat Dance."

Being a rare and devoted little boy Met fan on the mean streets of the Bronx, surrounded and hounded by Yankee fans—inside the family and out—earned me the childhood nickname of “Mr. Met,” or “Met” for short. Mr. Met, by the way, is the team's baseball-headed mascot. It’s a moniker that has stuck with me to this day, even as my fanaticism for the Mets and the game of baseball—as performed today by self-absorbed, disloyal, greedy multi-millionaires—has been wholly exorcised.
Both Jarvis and her organ playing personify a time lost—a better time for professional baseball, when it was still a game and not overwhelmed by the color of money, din, and gossip-column celebrity unrelated to the goings-on between the white lines. 

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