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Jane Jarvis & The Keys to Our Hearts

If ever a cold January morning called for a round of the Mexican Hat Dance, this is it. It’s a good time to hear Jane Jarvis on the Thomas Organ welcoming us to Shea Stadium. It’s a good time to lean forward in anticipation of an afternoon in the sun with the Mets and a hot dog and whatever the next nine innings will bring.

It’s a good time to close our eyes and hear Jane Jarvis play something peppy.

Jane Jarvis died Monday at the age of 94, the [1]New York Times [1] reports [1]. She outlived Shea. She outlived the organ as the prime source of pregame and between-innings entertainment. She lived a very long time and accomplished a great deal as a musician and music executive. She lives on for every Mets fan who ever clapped or tapped along to whatever she played. Jane Jarvis was as much the Mets as anybody or anything else between 1964 and 1979. For those of us enchanted by the Melody Queen of Shea Stadium, she’s always going to be synonymous with some of the best days of our lives.

This is where I tell my Jane Jarvis story. It’s not from Shea. It’s from long after she was on the active roster. It’s from just over six years ago, the fall of 2003, at the senior center my wife runs in midtown Manhattan. The church that houses the center hosts weekly jazz concerts. The star of one of those shows? None other than Ms. Jane Jarvis, then nearly 88 — one year for every key on the piano.

“Jane Jarvis is playing at the center Wednesday,” Stephanie told me. “Do you want to come?” It was like one of those cartoons in which the person on the other end of the conversation leaves his chair spinning and a cloud of dust behind before the question is completed.

There I was, and there she was, Jane Jarvis, playing with a small combo, playing with style and grace to a packed house, playing everything on the jazz menu that afternoon. The audience was loving it. They thought they were hearing it all. I was loving it, too, except I wanted to order off the menu. The jazz was tasty, but I wasn’t there to hear all that jazz. I wasn’t going to say that, of course, but my wife is pretty good at reading my Met mind and knowing what I wanted to hear.

The show was ending. Stephanie, as emcee of the event, informed the audience that in case you didn’t know it, Ms. Jarvis was the organist at Shea Stadium for many years and if we all encourage her, maybe she’ll give us a little of her signature tune. This wasn’t a crowd of baseball fans (I think her Shea credentials came as news to most of them) but they were up for it. Everybody applauded.

Jane had this look of “I’ve been a serious musician for 75 years and you want to hear what?” But, pro’s pro, she departed from her set list and dove right in to “Meet The Mets”. It was just a few bars, but it was dreamy.

Until she segued into the other song I associate with Jane Jarvis: “The Mexican Hat Dance”. And that was off the charts thrilling. Jane Jarvis’ “Mexican Hat Dance” is the ultimate pregame soundtrack in my mind. Always will be. And here it was, a command performance almost.

The audience in the church knew exactly when to clap. Just as I did that autumn afternoon. Just as I am right now, in appreciation for making our Mets life that much more joyful.

After her 2003 performance, I brought my Meet The Mets CD from up to the piano, thanked her for playing those two songs and asked her to autograph the liner notes. She did so, regally. Why not? She’s Jane Jarvis, Shea Stadium’s Queen of Melody. Her playing will always rule.

A musician’s perspective on the life of Jane Jarvis is offered here [2] by Ann Ruckert.