Have You Met Miss Jones? by
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I always liked the way my dad played the piano, inventing arrangements from a fake book and not just playing scripted sheet music.  He loved interesting chords, with a just enough dissonance.  There were certain tunes he played often, refining the sound over time, drawing heavily from the Great American Song Book and jazz standards.  Although we kids took piano lessons, we only learned the rudiments, trying to recreate exactly what was written on the page, and it was a wonder to me how dad managed just to sit down and have the music flow.

He would have loved to have played in a jazz combo, but life didn’t have space for that, and he rationalized that he wouldn’t want to be in some smoky bar where no one was really listening to the music anyway.  But he did try to woo my mother with his playing (“Laura”), and listening to music was part of their relationship, especially at the cocktail hour.  His songs were the soundtrack of our lives. (See also Retrospect prompt “Separating the Art from the Artist”–“Sir Duke”)

Unexpectedly, I came into a fine Seiler grand piano when the neighbor across the street died.  It inspired me to play more, and when my dad came to visit, he fell in love with that piano.  Not that he got to play it very often—I lived in Oakland, he lived in Bethesda, and he was nearing eighty when I got it.  Who knew how much longer he would still be traveling and have a chance to play?  Sally really enjoyed listening to him too and became keen on figuring out a way to record him.  In his usual humble fashion, he demurred, not deeming his playing worthy despite our pleas.

Sally is not easily dissuaded.  She had a client in the music business and she cajoled him into helping.  The next time my parents visited, she would be ready, and warned my dad.  Finally won over, he put together a play list.  The following year when they arrived, the music tech brought over his computer and microphone for the recording, setting up in the living room next to the piano.  My dad sat down and played through his list, repeating sections or trailing off early in frustration when it wasn’t perfect.  But overall, it sounded pretty darn good.

The parents were back in Bethesda when Sally and I went into the studio for post-production work.  We had to decide on the order of the songs, pick the best ones, and edit them.  I was amazed to see how the music could be reduced to a series of sound waves on the monitor.  They could be tweaked to remove a bad note or cut out rough sections, mending the waves seamlessly back together.  We ultimately produced a decent CD, got Sally’s secretary to help with the cover art and liner notes, and sent copies to friends and family.

We all loved listening to the CD, although my dad insisted all he heard were the mistakes.  I don’t know if he realized it, but I had ordered the songs in a way that I imagined followed the arc of my parents’ marriage, including the song he first played for her.  She was like no other girl he had met before, and he fell hard.  I picked one of the songs I heard him play countless times, and adapted it for the title of the CD:  “Miss Jones and I”.

After he died, I got some of his old music books and have since tried to play many of his favorite songs (though not as well as he), including “Have You Met Miss Jones?”.  I think of him every time I hear it; I learned to play my own version through still-grieving tears.  Even now, it still moves me.

 

 

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Ah Khati, this is such a beautiful tribute to your dad. It has inspired me to write about my dad who was also a self-taught, in his case a classical pianist.
    Thanx for a lovely story!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    A wonderful tribute to your father, Khati. That’s amazing that you set up the recording, then took it into the studio, arranged the order of the songs to mimic your parents’ relationship and had copies made, to cherish forever. I get chills thinking about it. Your father might have focused on his mistakes, but you heard love.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Betsy, you made the tears well just a bit. I’m so glad it worked out—it has indeed provided much joy over the years. The “forever” part hinges on still having a CD player, or transferring it to some other digital format—as do so many other memories. It turns out that those old pictures and mementos (and sheet music) are still important.

  3. Such a very moving story, Khati! I just love that you made the recording, and the CD, and the wonderful cover! Music is a special language that connects people on such a deep level. Your father’s taste was divine. My mother loved to sing, mostly Rodgers and Hart, and I have some random recordings of her singing when we were growing up, something I’ll always remember about her. And then, after she’d had her stroke but still loved to sing, I have a recording of that, too…but it’s (almost) too sad to listen to.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I have a recording of my dad telling stories shortly before he died, also almost too hard to listen to. I do indeed feel lucky to have that CD of his piano music. You have great memories of singing and music from your mom with or without recording. Sometimes the Doors had it right “music is your special friend”.

  4. Marian says:

    This is lovely, Khati, and I’m so happy for you that Sally persisted and that CD got made. You can listen to it with both tears and joy. And, it’s nice that you still play those tunes from time to time, even if you think your skills don’t live up to your father’s.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It was definitely a team effort—sad to say I probably would never have persisted without some help, but so glad it turned out. I have come to a place where I am just enjoying playing for myself, and that is enough.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    As I also said with regard to Dana’s story, it is so wonderful that you thought of a song that was not “yours,” but your dad’s. I was so deficient in that area, and regret it to this day. This is just so beautiful, and so glad it still moves you. And I feel I know (and respect) your dad even more knowing that he only heard “the mistakes.” What a mensch!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It was his song, but also mine. I don’t know what it meant to him—maybe it was just a tune he liked and played a lo—but when I hear it, I hear the story of his love and remember his piano and who he was. Mensch indeed.

  6. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Khati! I love that you made this CD with Sally’s help. A true labor of love! Great that your father got to hear it, even if he did focus on his mistakes. Terrific front and back covers on the CD too. And while I don’t know the Miss Jones song, I love all the other songs he played. Glad you are playing his songs for yourself now.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, it still makes me happy to play his songs. Miss Jones isn’t as well known as some of the other standards, but it fit perfectly.
      (“Have you met Miss Jones?” someone said as she walked by. She was just “Miss Jones” to me. Then I said, “Miss Jones, you’re the kind who understands I’m man who must be free.” Then all at once I lost my breath, and all at once was scared to death, and all at once I owned the earth and the sky. Now I’ve met Miss Jones, and we’ll keep on meeting ‘til we die, Miss Jones and I.)

  7. I really enjoyed this story. It’s great that you captured his playing, and that you are also able to play your own versions. Was your mother’s maiden name Jones? Or am I really dense?

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember that song because my parents loved it. You are so lucky to have recorded that CD, Khati. The other songs on it take me back to my parents’ home and what they played on the stereo, especially The Man I Love, Someone to Watch Over Me, Laura, Autumn in New York, September Song, and (in honor of the upcoming holiday) My Funny Valentine. I guess I did like some of their music, even if they hated mine.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I found I liked their music better as I got older—really enjoy versions by Diana Krall. I was surprised when a friend’s son got married last fall to strains of the Beatles!!! Who knew each generation might find something from their parents to like. Still wonder about rap though…

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    One of my best memories I have of my father is him singing at a family wedding when I was quite young. He was a pretty fine tenor.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    Khati, what a tender story. Such a labor of love it was for you to produce the CD for your father–and I know it was not “labor” to you. It sounds like your
    dad played by ear. That is such a gift, and one that he shared with your family.

    I’ve always loved “Have You Met Miss Jones?” It has nearly disappeared from the American songbook, but it is a treasure. Now I’ll always think of your father’s and mother’s love story when I hear it. Thank you.

  11. Khati! What a beautiful love story! Looking at your father’s playlist, I see I have played most of those tunes, admittedly in smoky bars where [almost] nobody ever listens. But the diligence you put into persuading your dad to record and you ‘sweetening’ the resulting recordings speaks of deep family love. A rare and precious commodity! Just beautiful.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thank you! Those songs are good’uns, aren’t they? In a smoky bar or not. I learned a lot about recording from that brief introduction to the studio—took me back to days doing film in the “light and communications” department in college. You’d think that would have translated better into cyber knowhow of today. Definitely glad we made it happen, very precious memories, and a team effort—yay team.

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