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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News Tribune Jim Bryant is seen with his last student, Katy Mehan, in his piano studio where he's been teaching for decades.

For many, talent, drive and opportunities to study under masters in faraway cities would pull them away from smaller communities, like Jefferson City.

James (Jim) Bryant had those opportunities. Born and raised here, he inherited his talent at a piano's keys from his mother, a renowned piano and organ player.

However, the 76-year-old piano instructor always found his way back to Jefferson City.

"It's home," he explained. "I've been able to travel a great deal and been away for school. Jefferson City is a great place to be. I'm happy to get away, but I'm always very happy to be right here. Especially now, with our crazy world."

And later this month, he will retire after about 65 years of teaching.

Maybe, the math doesn't seem quite right. He'll turn 77 later in July, but he'll have taught 65 years.

He began assistant teaching piano as a 12-year-old and did so all through high school.

Bryant took up the piano in about the third grade.

"That's about the best age to start," he explained. "When I audition students, I check their rhythmical skills, their ear, whether they can read yet — books. They need to be able to read well that way before the study of piano."

His final student, Katy Mehan, started in the second grade. She'll be going away to college in the fall.

Bryant was fortunate, he said, to have studied under the tutelage of May Lindsay, who had the Lindsay School of Piano.

Following high school, he went on to study with some great instructors, he said.

The schools play an important role in developing talent, he said. But there is more.

"You go for the teacher and the arts," he said. "My good fortune is to have had the best teachers. I can take my lineage back to Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin — just like that."

For example, Bryant said, his teacher at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was Joanne Baker. She was a student of Carl Friedberg, who in turn was a student of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

It's all about the choice of the teacher, he said.

He said he's been fortunate to have the guidance and the teachers that he's had.

"I'm of the old school," Bryant continued. "It's almost as if I'd been guided, beginning with my parents and so forth. I've been very fortunate."

Bryant also studied with Eugene Haynes, a Julliard graduate who was a teacher at Lincoln University.

"My mom and May Lindsay were responsible for helping pave the way for him in Jefferson City — to perform. He was a Julliard graduate. I studied with him. And his lineage goes back to Frédéric Chopin."

Bryant has "done a great deal" of performing over the years, but his primary influence has been teaching. He eventually took over the Lindsay School of Piano.

"It's wonderful to mold a youngster — not only in the arts — but to develop a good sense of how to study, how to practice, because it carries over into anything else," he said. "I had instilled in me the compulsion to pass on what I was fortunate to have. I hope I've done that somewhat with my students over the years."

Students have gone on to become music teachers, but many have careers in medicine, law, television production and social work.

And music — in many ways — is a science, Bryant continued.

The talent for music is connected with sharp minds, he said. Mehan, his final student, he pointed out, has a "hair-trigger mind" with sciences.

Mehan will major in biology at Fordham University, a Jesuit research university in New York.

"It's a little bit different from what I do here," she said. "I've been taking piano with Mr. Bryant since second grade. It has exposed me to performance and recitals. It's very, very stressful, but it helps you learn so much."

She explained the training is heavily math-involved because of all the time-keeping and has helped her with public speaking.

"It helps with your understanding of the arts, which is essential to an education," she said.

Bryant said he wasn't thinking about taking his final student 10 years ago, when he accepted Mehan (he also taught her sister). But things just developed.

Students have been changing.

"All of a sudden I realized when I was auditioning people about four or five years ago — I was hm, I don't know that I want to work with that student and take them," he said.

In recent years, he became somewhat disgruntled with the lack of commitment from students who didn't realize that if they were to have lessons in anything, they had to put in the work before the next lesson.

The community has supplied Bryant with incredible talent that he has molded through the decades.

"Jefferson City has had some fabulous musicians over the years," Bryant said. "That generation is — sort of — gone. It has to be replaced, and the ones coming on have not necessarily had training."

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