Harold Jolls


Buffalo Courier-Express, Feb. 14, 1961

Jolls Combines Farming And Music Careers
By Bill Lamale

DIFFERENCE - Harold Jolls, like any other farm boy, plowed with a team, milked, and did chores. But one thing set him apart from the others growing up in Mosher Hollow, near East Leon, in western Cattaraugus County.

Young Jolls carried around a music book, and took piano lessons from a teacher who came from Salamanca.

"That boy might better be out in the barn helping you," neighbors used to tell his father.

ORGANIST - But Jolls continued with the piano - "wore the ivory right off the keys," as he says - and then took up pipe organ in Buffalo. He became a motion picture organist in Rochester at the age of 24, and went on to a lifetime in music.

He never really left the farm. But nobody in Mosher Hollow ever got quite used to having an organist in the neighborhood. Dairy farmer Jolls never quite got used to it either.

PLAYS AT THEATER - That's what he said the other day after playing the organ during intermission at Shea's Roosevelt Theater, 887 Broadway. He went there four years ago and performs on Sunday.

Jolls is husky and broad-shouldered, with short-cropped, iron gray hair and a weathered, lined face. The only time he isn't smoking is when he's at the console.

BACK TO FARM - After graduation from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, Jolls went on the Loew's circuit in New York City, and then worked in Midwestern cities. He had played five years in a theater in Elkhart, Ind. when the talking pictures came. Jolls wistfully packed his sheet music and headed back to Mosher Hollow and farming. "I never expected to play the theater organ again," he said.

He pulled on his overalls and went to work on his father's 400 acres. That was in 1935. Eight years later the elder Jolls died, and his bachelor son was left with the responsibility of the farm.

CONTINUES PLAYING - Jolls liked farming. He turned in the horses for a tractor, and did all the planting and harvesting himself. He had more than 700 laying hens.

But he didn't forget music, especially the organ. He performed in churches, restaurants and skating rinks for miles around. He demonstrated organs for a firm in Buffalo, and played dedicatory programs.

SELLS COWS - As a boy he couldn't play ball because the game was ruinous to a sensitive right thumb, but farming, hard as it was, never stiffened his hands enough to keep him from the organ. He used to race home from Buffalo, 45 miles away, change into overalls and do farm work.

Several years ago he gave up his last Holstein cows, eight of them, and sold all but an acre of the farm. He did it reluctantly. Farming was a sort of antidote for too much organ and too much music, he said. Out in the barn or in the pastures he used to work off the tensions.

TEACHES - Weekdays Jolls travels through three counties, giving organ lessons. But he does his own housework ("I can cook as well as any woman," he declared), and tends 60 bantam chickens, his last connection with farming. He comes home every night to feed those chickens.

At one time Jolls had a three manual organ installed in his house. He tire out partitions and made an 18-by-20-foot living room, and strengthened the floor beams, just to accommodate the big instrument.

AUDIENCE - The thunder of that organ in the quite country air didn't pass unnoticed for long. "Every night I had an audience," he said. "Neighbors would come in and stand quietly in the parlor, hats off, or sit on the porch railing in front. They even peeked through the windows, and applauded."

Once when Jolls was cleaning out the cow barn, a car spun into the driveway with two men and one came running up.

BET - "Say," he said, I'll bet my pal out there five bucks you can play the organ with your boots on. Can you?"

"Well," replied Jolls. "That depends. Will you wash of my boots, so I can step in the house?"

"Sure," said the other.

"All right. Tell your pal he'd better have his money ready."