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I spent my early youth in a section of Pittsburgh known as Homestead Park, the outermost region of the "steel capital of the world" and the furthest that the post-World War II suburbs had sprawled. My house stood on Briarly Lane, a dirt road that separated "modern living" from the "olden days." My side of the road was covered with new housing developments, complete with electricity, telephones, and indoor plumbing. Crossing Briarly Lane, however, brought you to the world of farms, fields, barns, wood stoves, kerosene lamps, pump organs, and (naturally) outhouses. My maternal grandparents lived on this side of the lane.
Many of my childhood stories have their genesis in this setting.
I grew up in a busy household. In addition to my nine brothers and sisters, my paternal grandmother and uncle lived with my family. Everybody told stories. Stories passed the time, they entertained, they taught lessons, they brought history to life, they introduced a world beyond the local neighborhood. Telling stories was the most natural thing to do... so natural, in fact, that it never occurred to me that someday it would actually become a career.
My love of stories was matched by my love of music. I spent hours teaching myself to play the piano, and early-on I established myself as a successful jazz pianist. This ultimately led me to the Eastman School of Music for undergraduate and graduate study. While in Rochester I discovered modern dance through Garth Fagan, and the art of pantomime through Bob Berky. Eventually, my interests in the creative arts came together at the esteemed Harley School, where I established a multifaceted performing arts program for elementary children.
All the while, I told stories... to my siblings and friends, to my own children, to my students and colleagues. I particularly enjoyed stories that involved my listeners and stories from contemporary culture. Then, in 1976, I received a call from a local library asking me to do an evening storytelling performance. I never thought I had anything to perform until the librarian reminded me of stories she had heard me tell my students. Her encouragement was compelling enough for me to give it a try. That's how it all started.
Since that time, I have performed in countless venues throughout the US, Canada, and Japan. I have appeared with orchestras as well, blending story and music -- my two great loves -- into a thrilling concert for family audiences. My stories can also be heard daily on two radio stations in Rochester, NY, where I have made my home since 1966.
"A good story will always carry a meaningful message, something of value that can be employed in the listener's daily life. My job is not to point that meaning out, but to simply tell the story. Then the listener can discover what he or she can take from the tale and cherish as life goes on."
When I am not performing, I spend my time writing, recording, gardening, cooking, biking, swimming, and traveling with the love of my life, Maura, my beloved wife.
Jay Profiled in Harley School Magazine
As a member of the Harley family for almost 40 years, Jay is one of the school's most unique assets.
Arts & Cultural Council Award
The Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester named Jay their Artist of the Year.
The Accidental Storyteller
Blogger Eric Koll sat down with Jay over coffee late one night. This is his report.
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