Newhaven Court’s Pat Jackson offers piano tunes played by ear
“Pat, ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ ”
“ ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ oh boy.”
With that, Pat Jackson began to play.
Jackson, 89, a resident at Newhaven Court at Lindwood, Hempfield, will take requests, but she mostly plays from the inexhaustible set list she has carried around in her head for most of her life.
From the storehouse of her memory, the songs — Broadway show tunes, ballads, jazz standards, love songs, folk songs — pour out and fill Newhaven Court every Wednesday evening.
For an hour each week, Jackson occupies the bench of the lobby grand piano and plays practically nonstop, blending one song into another effortlessly, seamlessly before a small audience of admirers.
“I saw the piano in the lobby, and I said I love to play and would it be OK if I came down and played the piano? Next thing you know, I had an audience,” she said. “This is the least-critical audience anybody could ever want.”
Although she barely acknowledges the audience, she plays the songs they love and remember from their childhood and adolescence:
“Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Somebody Stole My Gal,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Moon River,” “The Trolley Song,” “Tea for Two,” “Bicycle Built for Two,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” “Goodnight, Ladies,” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” “Hoop-Dee-Doo,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Dearie,” “New York, New York,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Till There Was You,” “Getting to Know You,” “Shortnin’ Bread,” “It’s Magic,” and “Music! Music! Music!”
And the list goes on. She acknowledges she probably knows hundreds of songs by heart.
“She’s so talented, I believe she deserves some accolades,” said Frances “Fran” Lynch, 88, a Newhaven Court resident and one of Jackson’s biggest fans. “I would love to see her name up in lights at the Palace Theater — ‘Pat Jackson, pianist supreme in her 80s.’ ”
Jackson began playing piano as a 6-year-old growing up in Greensburg. All she needed was four years of lessons — taught by a “maiden lady” at the bargain rate of 50 cents an hour — and she was off and playing. Her love of Broadway musicals and show tunes did the rest.
“My dad loved music, and he saw to it that I had a piano. When I was a little girl, he used to sing to me. That’s how come I know a lot of the old, old songs,” she said.
Although she would occasionally play for a school Christmas program or a party, she mostly has played for her own enjoyment over the years.
“I really look forward to doing it because it is a joy for me,” she said.
She and her husband of 66 years, Frank, 90, raised four children in Greensburg and later built a house in Ligonier. They moved to Newhaven Court five-and-a-half years ago.
Jackson passed along her love of music to her son, J. Jackson, who is lead singer and songwriter for the Pittsburgh band ApologetiX. The self-described Christian parody band rewrites secular rock songs by substituting Christian lyrics.
“My mom and my sisters loved Broadway shows, so I grew up listening to those albums,” J. Jackson said in an interview posted to the band’s website.
Pat Jackson has been performing at Newhaven Court on Wednesday evenings since she moved there. She also plays for a Friday afternoon singalong and the Sunday morning worship service.
Although she’s partial to the songs of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, she admits to liking some contemporary music.
On a recent Wednesday, her husband suggested she play something from the 1970 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but she demurred.
“I love the songs from ‘Superstar.’ We’ve seen it on stage. First time I ever heard the music, I just loved the music,” she said.
Then Jackson broke into a rousing rendition of “Beer Barrel Polka” that got some of the residents to dance.
When it was over, Lynch said, “You got us off our seats with that one, Pat.”
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .