Life has been a happy song for music man Jack Moelmann.
“I really enjoy life,” he said while perched on the bench of his Rodgers theater organ, where he just played the Sesame Street classic, “Rubber Ducky,” complete with duck calls emanating from a row of mallard duck pipes.
A renowned organist who has played in movie palaces and concert halls across the U.S. and in Europe, Jack, 76, is a skilled entertainer and natural showman — equal parts George Burns and Willy Wonka.
In 2008, he rented out Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which was the focus of a Steve Hartmann “Assignment America” segment on CBS News. It cost $118,000, which was his life savings. He sold tickets, and 1,000 people attended.
“Why not? It was a thrill. There is nothing bigger. It has 6,000 seats. That was the goal,” he said.
He has checked those off his list and doesn’t have another dream to achieve.
“There’s nothing I can do that’s better than the two I played at — Radio City Musical Hall and the Fox,” he said.
Newspaper articles from the New York Times and other publications detailing his NYC musical showcase line his “I Love Me Wall” (self-described and designated on the light switch) that includes dozens of awards, plaques and photographs.
Since 2009, he has been a staff organist at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, playing its historic Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. Every summer, he rents the space for an organ concert, complete with other organists and soloists. He changes into six snazzy sequined jackets that would make Liberace proud.
The Wurlitzer, he explained, is the biggest and most complex organ in St. Louis.
“It’s the real thing. I love the dynamics of it — no electricity. It’s a complex sound that’s overwhelming,” he said.
He is also a staff organist at the Lincoln Theatre in Belleville and plays every Sunday at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in O’Fallon.
A member of both the American Theatre Organ Society and Theatre Organ Society International halls of fame, Jack has been a tireless ambassador for organ music.
While growing up in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, he began singing in the church choir. Although he jokes that his first piano teacher fired him, he took to the keys eventually.
“My goal in life is to find her, although she’s probably not alive,” he said.
An only child, he described himself as “very shy and bashful,” but he liked to “get in on things,” he said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Bradley University in 1965.
“I was interested in electronics, and it was the Space Age, and that’s what you did,” he said.
Afterward, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he rose to the rank of colonel before his retirement.
“I retired at age 49, and have never worked a day since,” he said, indulging in his passions and pursuits while entertaining many fans.
While stationed at Scott Air Force Base, he moved to O’Fallon in 1991.
“I wanted to live near a big city, but not in it. I had gotten to know people,” he said.
At his split-level, four-bedroom home, he used his technical prowess to create an elaborate wired wonderland, which has grown into an awe-inspiring showplace for the sounds of music.
His funhouse family room includes two organs, with another upstairs, one in a trailer and another in storage. The house organs include 353 pipes, 132 individual speakers, 30 air-driven whistles, 28 percussion drums, nine tonal tuned percussions (xylophone, bells, marimba), 18-plus miles of interconnecting wiring, and a digital lighting control system.
In addition, there is “Jack’s Village” — intricate model railroad displays, with 28 train engines, motorized turntable, 35 buildings, six train whistles, three trolley cars, 16 sound-effect horns, 90 toggle switches and 24 push buttons.
“Trains and music go together for some reason,” he said.
He will entertain, complete with a silent Laurel and Hardy movie and a rousing patriotic sing-along that includes a flag drop, for club members and friends. He is fond of the classics — “Stormy Weather” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” — but he will attempt any kind of music.
He also takes his show on the road, performing at local retirement and senior living communities, as well as civic and church groups.
His residential treasure trove, tucked on the edge of a dead-end street, is a marvel of mechanical design, with electronically controlled sliding glass doors, drapes, and deck awning, a snow machine and 67 remote controls.
He has a four-page print-out of statistics about his “typical American home,” which includes 17 television sets and computer monitors, 18 telephone devices, four personal computers, three laptops, nine printers, a stereo sound system of reel-to-reel, cassette and 8-track tape decks, VCRs, DVDs, two medical alert systems, and nine wireless security cameras.
His CD and DVD collection includes copies of his organ concerts at the Fox and Radio City.
One of his phones is in an operational 1965 coin-operated telephone booth, complete with light and fan.
So many blowers, air pressure regulators, wires and power amps are required that he has a closet-sized room filled with nothing but his operations system.
His garage is a gadget haven, and a vintage vacuum cleaner stands in a corner.
“That’s from Stan Kann,” he said. (The legendary Fox organist and national TV celebrity known for his vacuum collection that he talked about on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”)
“He and I became fast friends. We are both past presidents of the ATOS,” he said.
A bachelor, his constant companions are his two dogs, Coco and Taylor.
He has been active in civic groups, becoming a lifetime member of the O’Fallon Historical Society and contributing generously to his church, including a new organ.
You could describe Jack as a character. He is a classic raconteur, regaling dinner guests with tales from his travels and experiences.
A gracious host, he was planning to have three Mormon missionaries to dinner, despite recent dental surgery.
“I’m just making steaks on the grill. I can’t eat it, but I’ll have a baked potato. When one of them first came to my door, I had a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other,” he said.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: The pianist Victor Borge — great musician, a great entertainer, and a great humanitarian.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: TV Guide. I hate to say it, but I don’t read books, as in novels. I wait for the movie to come out. That doesn’t mean I can’t read, I just don’t have time it seems.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: I want everything that I do to have some fun in it. Relaxation comes when I go to bed at night. Otherwise, I think I was born to be busy at something.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Cluttered. But in my opinion, ready to be organized. I just don’t get around to it very often. I only lose something when I am looking for it.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be in a technical career field. Electronics was it. My father wanted me to be a lawyer like him. No chance, but I do like “Perry Mason” and “Matlock” TV shows.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: Ability to share with others and that includes generosity, able to get along with everyone, and the ability to share my God-given talents with anyone, especially the disadvantaged, and I think I have done that.
Q: What irritates you most?
A: People who think they know it all and really don’t. Ones who get their mouth engaged before engaging their brain. If a person doesn’t have an answer to a question, keep quiet!
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: All kinds, except rap, which really isn’t music. I don’t do much with rock and roll and country western. Listen to opera, classical, Broadway — any music which has a melody and doesn’t have to be dominated by a drummer. Rhythm is fine but can be overdone.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Its retirement benefits! Haven’t had a real job in over 25 years.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: I think I am somewhat well-off and I need to share what I have with others, and I do share. It costs me, but that is why I have what I have and do what I do. I hope that makes sense.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: I have been asked that before. As there is a film script already done on my life, as of a few years ago, I often suggest Archie Bunker would make a good one, just in jest.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: A sleeping bag, a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon, and a bottle of Diet Coke. A boat would be helpful! Take someone along who can do the laundry.