IN THE MOOD—FOR BASEBALL

Organist Jane Jarvis brings both tact and taste to the once-dubious art of between-innings play. But best of all she gets the fans...
June 06, 1971

Baseball has never looked as good as it does from the organ loft at Shea Stadium, and has never sounded better. From her seat at her new Thomas organ, Jane Jarvis peers directly down at home plate and into the Met dugout—so she can see who is coming to bat and play something appropriately encouraging—but she also has a superb view of the diamond, the widening wedge of bright green grass in the outfield, the glitter of the lights along the stadium roof, the flags flying above them and the hazy buildings in the blue industrial distance. Only Mrs. Joan Payson, the owner of the Mets, whose box is just to the left of Jane's, has as good a view of the field as the organist. Jane usually stands at her big picture window while a team comes to bat. As soon as two men are out she takes her place at the organ, her thin hands poised over the keys, and the instant the third out is made she lets fly with the nice loud opening bars of some suitable song, such as Hallelujah! if the Mets have come from behind, or Wait 'til the Sun Shines Nellie if things remain a bit cloudy.

Counting last week, Jane has played the musical accompaniment for 1,120 major league baseball games. Since Shea Stadium opened in 1964 she has missed only one game there, and that was because a deluge put the organ out of commission. Before that she played for the Milwaukee Braves. In all, she has been heard—live—by 26,746,711 paying customers, not to mention those who got in free, which makes her one of the most listened-to musicians—live—in history.

The baseball record books do not show a single victory credited to an organist, and Jane does not claim any share in the success of either the Braves or the Mets. But she does believe that the reactions of baseball crowds can be a factor in team performance and that the music played in ball parks can contribute to the mood of the crowd. Her work when she is not playing for Met home games is a continuation of the music-sets-the-mood theory, for she is a program and recording director for Muzak, the music-merchandising firm that pipes melodies into offices, factories and almost anyplace where there is room for a speaker. The Muzak office in New York is a cavernous expanse of recording studios and endless batteries of tape recorders. It operates 24 hours a day turning out music intended to boost employee morale, increase productivity or make waiting in an airport more pleasant. Subscribers can get any kind of music they want—classical, semiclassical, pop, hard rock, medium rock, dinner music with overtones of old Vienna, country music, Latin American music—virtually everything except yodeling. Subscribers to the 24-hour program get approximately 500 tunes every day. These are not chosen at random but with the aid of consulting psychologists and are selected to make you feel better after lunch, the low point of the American day, or happier than you would otherwise be just before dawn.

Jane's musical recall is just short of total. Each Muzak program is divided into 15-minute segments, with jolly, vigorous airs to brighten the dull afternoons, or, in the early morning, something like Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? at 2:45 and Rose Garden at 4:48. Jane's work includes choosing the appropriate songs for the right mood for the right time, writing arrangements and lining up musicians for the recording sessions.

Baseball's most-heard organist is a slight, adroit, dark-haired little woman with a superb musical education. This she combines with a breadth of interest that extends over the whole field of popular music, and while piped music these days is often disparaged as corn, the inviolate rule seems to be that it must be well performed no matter what it is. So there is an atmosphere of highly professional concentration around Jane's working quarters, mixed with the unreality that comes with packing and merchandising a commodity so insubstantial as a tune.

The atmosphere at Shea is at the opposite extreme, being loud, noisy, informal and filled with requests. These come from ushers, gatekeepers, electricians, reporters in the press box and occasionally from the players. Mrs. Payson is an authority on ragtime and knows the words of many turn-of-the-century sentimental favorites, some of which she occasionally sings after a rousing Met victory. It is nice when the organist knows the tune. Haifa dozen technicians concerned with the lights and scoreboard inhabit the far end of the loft that Jane shares with the field announcer. Reporters and visiting celebrities stop at the open door to listen, keeping up a conversational accompaniment to the music—"Hello, Jane!"—and wanting to know: "What was that number you played night before last?" Jane keeps a logbook of every tune she uses at every game, noting the time as well. It would be possible to write a Ph.D. thesis correlating the songs with the number of hits the Mets got their next time at bat.

One of the curiosities of baseball history is that music to be played at baseball games was composed and published for nearly 20 years before baseball began to be regularly reported in the newspapers. The first composition devoted to baseball, The Base Ball Polka, was copyrighted in 1858, and there was a musical library of half a hundred such pieces before Henry Chadwick published the first baseball handbook in 1869. The early amateur teams had their own songs and their own bands. But by the time Jane and a few others began to play for big-league teams, the rich musical tradition of bands at ball parks had almost disappeared. The only sound effects were provided by mechanical record players or organists who regarded the instrument essentially as a means of commenting on the game. (One exception was at Ebbets Field, where Gladys Gooding was the organist, but Miss Gooding had been hired primarily for her rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.) The trouble with recorded music at ball parks was that it could not be changed according to the fortune of the game or the mood of the crowd. On the other hand, the organist-commentators were plain corny, sometimes belting out mocking melodies such as Three Blind Mice or Would You Like to Take a Walk?

Jane was anything but corny. She brought to the business of playing at ball parks an immaculate musicianship, innate good taste and a total ignorance of the game of baseball. She was born in Vincennes, Ind., a pleasant, tree-shaded town that was probably the only place in the state where it was possible to grow up without ever seeing a baseball game. She always intended to be a concert pianist. As a girl she played with the Indianapolis and Milwaukee symphony orchestras, and she once had a concert tour through several Southern cities. The critics were approving, but they also volunteered kindly advice to the effect that she was too slight and frail to meet the rigorous life demanded of a concert pianist. Next Jane began playing in Chicago dance bands and at cocktail lounges, but she found this more tiring than the concert stage. "People drank too much," she says, "and talked too much. You heard too much and saw too much and you knew too much and finally you wanted some other kind of life."

For her this turned out to be marriage, a home in Oconomowoc, Wis., two children and a job as staff pianist at a radio station. Meanwhile, the Boston Braves had moved to Milwaukee—complete with a house organist, the funny type. But by this time baseball was tired of musical gagsters, so the Braves went looking for a more classical organist. When Jane applied she was hired at once, despite the fact she knew nothing about the game.

"When there are three strikes on a batter, he's out," said John Quinn, the Braves' general manager, "and when there are three outs, that's when you play."

Jane quickly got a grasp of the game.

"When the umpire raised his hand," she says, "it was very plain something had happened, and after he did it three times, I played. But never until I was sure it was time to play. They put the fear of God into me—never interfere with the game. Never never never never never never never never never." Nine nevers. As a result of all this, she briefly acquired a vague notion that the time when one team comes off the field and the other one goes on is the most important part of the game of baseball.

It was in several respects that she saw the game from an oblique angle. Her organ cubicle at County Stadium was located in the mezzanine beyond first base, and she peered through an opening four feet long and only 17 inches high. She never saw a pitcher's face and could not be sure what he was doing on the mound.

The loudspeakers at Milwaukee were located in a grove of pine trees in center field, and a full second elapsed between the time Jane played a note and the sound got back to her. If there was a high wind, whole bars and measures were blown away. So she persuaded the officials to place some speakers in the stands. That was fine for those spectators well removed from the speakers, but ghastly for those closest, even though she kept the volume down. Spectators would persuade the ushers to turn off the speakers nearest them, and finally there was almost no sound at all. Silenced, Jane agreed that the speakers should be returned to the distant trees.

Jane was always conscious of playing to enormous and excitable crowds. In 1955, her first full season—and Henry Aaron's second—there were 2,005,836 at the Braves' home games. But the 1956 season opened dismally, with five games in a row rained out—and 10 of the first 15. "There is a lot of damp music," Jane says, "and I'd play every watery tune I could think of—Singing in the Rain, I Get the Blues When It Rains, Rain on the Roof and Rain. There are three different songs named Rain. When I ran out of rain songs I'd go into songs about rivers—River Stay 'way from My Door, Old Man River, Mississippi Mud." In all, there have been 106 games when Jane played steadily, sometimes for hours, waiting for the rain to stop.

When blue skies finally did come, fights started, including the memorable one between Joe Adcock and Giant Pitcher Ruben Gomez. It began when Gomez hit Adcock. Halfway to first, Adcock started after Gomez. Gomez threw the ball at the big Milwaukee first baseman and hit him again, this time on the thigh. Adcock then chased Gomez around third base and into the Giant dugout. There followed a brouhaha that eventually involved players, umpires, ushers, guards and police. Jane turned up the volume and whipped into The Star-Spangled Banner. Players react differently to the sound of the national anthem under these not unfamiliar circumstances. Some are reminded of their patriotic obligations and stand at attention. But many pay no heed. When Sal Maglie was with the Dodgers he was in so many fights at which The Star-Spangled Banner had to be played that he once claimed he instinctively would turn and face the flag if the organist so much as played Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The Braves' crowds became a phenomenon in baseball and, as a fixture of the scene, Jane and her music were studied by officials of other clubs. When Shea Stadium was being planned, a delegation of Met functionaries appeared in Milwaukee to examine the musical facilities. It was a cold day when they arrived, unannounced, and when Tom Meany, the Mets' promotional director, opened the door of Jane's cubicle he found her wearing a heavy coat and playing with gloves on her hands and galoshes on her feet. "Imagine seeing someone playing the organ wearing gloves and galoshes," she says. The visitors from New York vanished as though they had witnessed an apparition.

At the end of the 1963 season, two years before the Braves left Milwaukee, Jane moved to New York to begin working for Muzak. The Mets promptly hired her in time for the first game at Shea Stadium and she was dumfounded, not only by the comfort of the organ loft but by the magnificent view. She could see! "It was an entirely different game," she says.

It was also a game that she got to know. Today Jane views baseball with the profound authority of an expert who personally witnessed every step of one of the remarkable happenings of the sport, the rise of the Mets from cellar to world championship. It was a success that made her doubly happy, for it is easier to make music at a ball park for a winning team.

When the Mets' 1969 pennant drive began, Jane knew that her time had come. Her music was jubilant when New York won 13 in a row. It was cheerier yet when the Mets won 25 and lost only five in one stretch of home stands in August and September. There was a problem, though. There are not enough cheerful tunes in American music to sustain an organist through that kind of show.

Jane now carries a sheaf of music paper with her to the stadium, and when she is not playing she writes music. Her compositions tend to be intricate, lively and imaginative, but not directly related to baseball, with titles such as Subway Struggle and Payment Wasn't Deferred. She arrives about noon on the day of an afternoon game and watches the people come in. Crowds fascinate her. "Something will trigger the spirit of a certain kind of crowd," she says. "Something in the game itself. It may be a dramatic play, but it can be anything, even an error or an umpire's call or an awkward move that makes people laugh. Whatever it is, it goes through the whole ball park."

Does this have any influence on the outcome of a game? Well, baseball players and musicians are both public performers, and there never yet has been a musician who did not do better when he had an audience with him. For Jane the finest tribute to her music comes when a crowd spontaneously begins to sing. It is a response that cannot be organized or controlled; it just happens.

"The first time this happened was during a dreary, rained-out game in Milwaukee with the Cincinnati Reds," she recalls. "There was a trainload of Cincinnati rooters in the open stands. The ground crew could not get the tarpaulin over the infield, and some of the Cincinnati fans, who were already drenched, jumped out on the field to help. But the downpour got worse and the ground crew ran for shelter, leaving the fans there. I was playing Bed tin' the Jack, and they started to dance in the rain. Then I played Down by the Old Mill Stream and everybody began to sing. They sang April Showers, Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet and Swanee—all old standbys. You can only play very familiar songs when crowds are singing."

Since then, crowds have often burst into song unexpectedly, but never as consistently or boisterously as when the Mets were winning their 1969 pennant. On three occasions the crowd kept Jane playing for an hour after a game was over. On the day the Mets clinched the pennant it seemed nobody would leave Shea Stadium. "I played music in a descending scale," Jane says. "Joyful music at first, Hallelujah! and The Best Things in Life Are Free and, then about halfway down, Let's Put Out the Lights and Lazybones, with a very languid tempo. Finally, Goodnight, Ladies, played very slowly, and Rock-a-Bye Baby. By the time I played Sleep the field was almost dark."

That would have been a fitting climax to the longest career of a musician in the history of baseball. But Jane Jarvis could hardly leave it at that. When the Mets are at Shea, so is she. And win or lose, afternoon or night, she calls the tune.

THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)