Last week, Jane Jarvis passed away at the age of 94. Jarvis was Shea Stadium’s first organist, from 1964 all the way through 1979. She’s still remembered by fans who heard her as a delightful and witty practitioner of that uniquely American art form, stadium organ music. Marty Noble wrote a remembrance of her, and shared the tidbit that during the 1977 blackout, Jarvis entertained the sweltering Shea crowd with such ironic song selections as “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells”
I’m not old enough to have enjoyed Ms. Jarvis’ stylings, but I do miss ballpark organists. Most MLB teams still have an organist, but their playing time has reduced significantly in favor of prerecorded music instead, which is a shame. Both New York teams still have organists, but I can not tell you the last time I actually heard one play at either stadium.
I’m not too old school when it comes to most things in baseball; I think the game is more often hurt by its emphasis on tradition than it is helped. But there are two points where I see eye-to-eye with the Get Off My Lawn crowd: the DH is an abomination, and stadium organists are vastly superior to any other form of in-game entertainment.
In the long history of baseball, organs are a relatively recent feature of the game experience. The first stadium organ didn’t appear until 1941, when the Cubs installed one in Wrigley Field, and they didn’t really catch on elsewhere until after World War II. But the organ has become a sound as associated with the game as the crack of a bat. Playing “charge!” on an organ is musical shorthand for “there is a baseball game being played right now”.
I have a feeling that the almost exclusive use of prerecorded music is a relatively recent phenomenon, one that crept slowly into the game in the last 15 years or so. While compiling The 1999 Project, I listened to and watched a whole bunch of games from that season, and noticed that Shea was still very organ-centric back then. Pitchers and batters entered the game to their own hand-picked tunes, but all other musical cues came from an organ.
In that spirit, please enjoy this video about Lambert Bartak, the man who has manned the organ for the college world series for the last 50+ years.