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Jane Jarvis, 94, N.Y. Mets organist

Jane Jarvis was also a programmer for Muzak. Jane Jarvis was also a programmer for Muzak.
By Peter Keepnews
New York Times / February 1, 2010

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NEW YORK - Jane Jarvis, who brought a jazz sensibility to unlikely places as an organist for the New York Mets and a programmer for Muzak, died Jan. 25 at Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in Englewood, N.J. She was 94.

Her death was confirmed by her son, Brian.

Ms. Jarvis’s career was bracketed by jazz, which she considered her first love. She formed a jazz band in her native Indiana as a teenager, and she worked steadily as a jazz pianist, mostly in New York, from her mid-60s into her 90s. But for more than two decades she was best known as a ballpark organist.

In 1954 Ms. Jarvis was playing piano and organ in nightclubs and on television in Milwaukee when she was approached by the Braves, a team newly transplanted after a half-century in Boston, and offered the job of organist.

“I wasn’t a sports fan, and I was uncertain about doing it,’’ she told The New York Times in 1984, “but money overcame my worries.’’

After eight years playing for the Braves at County Stadium in Milwaukee, she moved to New York and became a fixture at Shea Stadium from 1964 to 1979, performing a repertory that mixed jazz staples like Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple’’ with more conventional fare like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame’’ and “Meet the Mets.’’

Few Mets fans knew that Ms. Jarvis had begun her career as a jazz pianist. Even fewer knew that she had a day job with Muzak Corp.

Muzak was synonymous with soothing sounds piped into elevators when Ms. Jarvis was hired for a clerical job there in 1963, not long after she moved to New York and roughly a year before she joined the Mets. She worked her way up to vice president in charge of programming and recording. When she began supervising sessions, she hired Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry, among other jazz musicians. The result was canned music that was considerably more swinging than the Muzak norm, much of which the musicians, including Ms. Jarvis, composed themselves.

Nearing retirement age and wanting to engage the public more directly, Ms. Jarvis left her job at Muzak in 1978 and the Mets a year later (she was not replaced). At 64, she began looking for work.

She recorded her first album as a leader in 1985, the year she turned 70.

Luella Jane Nossett was born in Vincennes, Ind., on Oct. 31, 1915, the only child of Charles and Luella Nossett. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a schoolteacher. They were killed in a road accident when she was 13.

She began picking out melodies on the piano at 4, and a year later her parents, impressed, arranged for her to study classical piano at Vincennes University. She went on to study at several conservatories in Chicago.

Ms. Jarvis was married and divorced three times. In addition to her son, she leaves a daughter, Jeanne, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Despite health problems, Ms. Jarvis continued to perform and record into the 21st century, both as a bandleader and with the ensemble Statesmen of Jazz.