Romancing the Memories

By James Minor

Even if you don’t know who Jay Conner is, there’s a good chance he’s put you to sleep.

Conner is a renowned pianist from Newport whose music may be recognizable to area residents as the soothing sounds accompanying the “Carolina Seascapes” footage airing on local cable access.

“I ask people all the time,” Conner said, “‘what do you think of the music on that?’ and they’ll say, ‘I think it’s the best mattress music ever recorded. It puts you to sleep right away.’ ”

What would be an insult to other musicians is a source of pride for Conner, who releases his third CD of piano music, “Romancing the Memories,” today.

“My music is soothing and relaxing. It’s also reflective. I hope it causes one to look inward,” he said.
Conner’s music has struck a cord in many people during the years, having been played in more than 14 countries on radio and music TV channels. His “Fill Me With Your Love” is on the motion picture soundtrack for the Allan Smithee film “Burn Hollywood Burn.”

Despite the success, the 13-track “Romancing the Memories” is Conner’s first major project in eight years.
The break, he said, was because he was so entrenched in running the family business of Leader Homes — a mobile home company that went out of business in December 2004 —that he didn’t have any energy to be creative.

“I went through a lull,” Conner said. “I didn’t have any inspiration for music coming to me. I don’t mean to sound cliché but I don’t give myself any credit for my music… I just see myself as an instrument, as a conduit, and I was not open to receiving new music.”

Once he was again “open” to music, he said, it was there for him, sometimes coming from unlikely places.
Two songs on “Romancing the Memories”—“It Must Be Real” and “Once Again”—were poems Conner’s mother had written years before and finally decided to show her son, while another, “Waiting for the Sun,” was a poem written by Conner’s brother-in-law during a bad Texas storm.

“They weren’t trying to connect the writing to music,” he said, “but after I read them, I decided the words needed music.”

Conner also found inspiration from the special moments everyday life can bring. He cites the song “Can I Go With You?” as one example.

“The song was inspired by one of my good friends, Albry Spence, and his little boy, Mason,” Conner said.
“Mason was 3 or 4 years old when this happened. Albry got a pair of shoes with the springs in them and says to his son, ‘when you jump on these shoes, they’ll take you all the way to the moon.’

“Now, talk about faith and believing what your parents say, Mason looks up and says, ‘Daddy, can I go with you?’ When I heard that story, I knew I had to write a song with that title.”

Conner admits that he is attempting his own “leap of faith” with “Romancing the Memories.”

Unlike his first two releases, 1997s “Grand Escapes” and 1998s “Suspended in Time,” “Romancing the Memories” does not include any orchestration to go along with Conner’s exceptional piano skills.

The decision to go solo came from feedback on the first two albums. According to Conner, people were telling him they either wanted to hear more piano or piano only.

“I think the piano style is the same, but it’s not covered up by the orchestration. I don’t know if I’ll get the music stations and TV channels to play piano only, but my record label (Encore Music based in Morehead City) is checking into a couple of options. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception I get.”

Conner is also considering live performances, something he has rarely done.

“I’ve been invited to play for events like the annual Hospice memorial service—which I wrote the song ‘Always in my Heart’ (on ‘Romancing the Memories’) for. I also stay active in my church music, but that’s about it.”

He says—half-joking, half-serious—that one thing that has kept him from doing live shows is the fear that his soft, meditative sound, will put the crowd to sleep within minutes. Still, live shows is something he seems excited to do.

Conner also dreams of a day he can play with the N.C. Symphony and would like to see one of his songs used as the title track for a major motion picture.

“Even though I’ve already had a song in a movie, I want one of my songs to be the theme, you know?” he said, calling his song on the “Burn Hollywood Burn” soundtrack a surreal—accidental, even—opportunity.

“I got a call from a friend right after ‘Grand Escapes’ came out,” Conner said, “and they said, ‘You’ve got some good stuff here. There is a movie getting ready to be produced and they’re doing something unorthodox. They are accepting submissions from unknowns.’ ”

Conner’s friend sent the information, and Conner promptly sent a CD to Universal Studios expecting that would be the end of it.

“I got a call about a month later,” he said. “There were 9,200 submissions and they only picked 10 of us.”

The movie wasn’t a success, but it opened a few more avenues for Conner, who remarked that not long after the movie was released he heard one of his songs on a radio station in California.

“That was my wake-up call that my music was going places.”

He hopes “Romancing the Memories” will take people places, too; places where clocks stand still, and where each song captures a moment in the listener’s life—a laugh, a cry, a kiss.

The CD is available for $15 at Dee Gee’s Gifts and Books in Morehead City, Beach Book Mart on Atlantic Beach, In the Spirit in Beaufort, Emerald Isle Books & Gifts, Russell’s Gift Shop in Swansboro and Core Sound Waterfowl Museum on Harkers Island.