Sculpture and a jazz piano

I never feel age… If you have creative work, you don’t have age or time.
– Sculptor Louise Nevelson at 80

Louise Nevelson Plaza on Maiden Lane. Shadows and Flags, (1977) 40 feet high, is made up of 7 sculptures of Corten steel painted black. Photo by Wallyg. Flikr.

Of course, many people do feel age, or at least some of the problems that accompany it. Not everyone fares as well as Louise Nevelson who kept working into her mid-80s, creating monumental objects of steel, dying finally at the age of 89.

Some people endure pain better than others; some have more to bear. Nevertheless, given how many older artists work well into their 80s, 90s, and even beyond, I see no reason to believe that age inhibits art any more than the vicissitudes of life inhibit artists at any age. As the bumper sticker famously puts it: “Shit happens.”

It just doesn’t happen to everyone.

I had never heard of Jane Jarvis until I ran across her obituary in my local newspaper. Years ago, when I lived in New York, I was a New York Mets fan. I remember the organist then – celebrating hits, bewailing strikeouts, urging fans on, doing the Mexican Hat Dance during the seventh inning stretch. It was only on television: I never actually saw Jane Jarvis. I’d never been a baseball fan before and I thought every team must have a musician like this, doing riffs on Charlie Parker and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Jane Jarvis played for the Mets from 1964-79, at the same time as she was a corporate vice president with – of all companies – Muzak, hiring  jazz musicians to liven up the elevator music I’d always assumed was dominated by Montavani. When she retired to be a jazz pianist full-time she was 64. By the mid 1980s, when she was 70, she recorded her first album as a band leader. More albums were to follow and she continued to play clubs in New York, Los Angeles and Florida into her 90s.

Jane Jarvis in 1984. Photo by Brownie Harris.

Wrote reviewer Sunish Stein in 1997:
Pianist Jane Jarvis infuses everything she plays with her joyful spirit. Watching her at the piano-silver hair flying, wide smile-is almost as much fun as listening to her. This spirit underlies these two very different releases, both of which reflect her solid swing roots. Jarvis is a wonderful ensemble player; her musical knowledge is encyclopedic and her musical communication is top notch. These same qualities also make her a prime duo partner.

Jane Jarvis had never been a novice in jazz. She grew up a child prodigy, was educated in conservatories and played the piano from the age of eleven. Nevertheless, when she started her jazz career in her mid-sixties, there must have been people in her life who shook their heads sadly, and some who even said out loud that she was crazy. She was too old to start a career in show business. But she wasn’t, I think, the kind of person to analyze what she did.  She just did it. The way Nevelson kept building bigger sculptures. Jane Jarvis played her piano into her nineties.

In 2008 a crane collapsed on the apartment building adjacent to the one where Jane lived, and she was forced to move. She went to the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in Englewood, New Jersey where she died at the age of 94.

One of the problems with retelling these kinds of stories is that I’m technically deficient, and not able to play her music on this post. But if you go to iTunes, or look her up on some of the Internet jazz sites, you’ll find she’s still swinging. If you go to YouTube, you’ll find her playing for the Mets and, more importantly, you’ll find her playing a duet with her friend, jazz trombonist, Benny Powell, less than a year before her death.

In my next post, I want to talk about a wonderful article about 82-year-old jazz great, Lee Konitz. I still won’t have the technical skill to give you Konitz in his “late style,” but I hope you’ll be encouraged to go look him up and listen.

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