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27 October 2015

The unstoppable force that is Judy Bailey

Judy Bailey Image: Judy Bailey  

As a companion piece to an interview with the 80-year-old pianist, composer and educator Judy Bailey, saxophonist Jeremy Rose asked a number of Australian jazz musicians and students about their memories of playing, studying and learning about music with Judy Bailey. While nobody was lost for words, it's perhaps drummer Tim Firth's comment that is the most telling: 'If a nuclear bomb was dropped on the earth, there wouldn't be anyone left except Keith Richards, Judy Bailey and maybe a few cockroaches.'

Our favourite memories of Judy

'When I first started classes with Judy, I was 16 years old, she was definitely the teacher - but she immediately made me feel more like a colleague. She looked at me with that glint in her eye that made you feel like you were on a journey together.' (James Morrison - multi-instrumentalist)

'There are plenty of favourite memories from every gig I do with her. The Judy pre-gig dance (a slight bounce while swinging the arms back and forth). The wry smile she gives Craig Scott whenever she throws an insane "re-harm" at him (Craig usually catches all of them). Her boisterous laugh at a Craig Scott joke. The raise of the eyebrows she gives me when it's my turn to solo (except the time she gave me that look on "Body and Soul", I mean, a drum solo on a ballad?! Come on!). And how every time she calls me, she always asks after my wife and kids.' (Tim Firth - drummer)

'Regularly buying me (a struggling 19-year-old saxophone player) bean soup at the Old Dutch Inn in Victoria St., Potts point. Playing ballads with Judy on piano with the most beautiful voicings and sensitive rhythms.' (Graeme Lyall - saxophonist)

'In 2002-2004 I was artistic director for the Jazzgroove Association when it was hosting gigs at the Excelsior in Surry Hills. A regular part of our program at the time was encouraging musicians of the older generation to put together a band with younger ones. Often we'd even suggest a combination of players to the leader they may never even have met. Judy was more than happy to oblige us in this concept. I'll never forget her and the band playing a 50-minute version of "Stella By Starlight" as their entire set. Unexpected to say the least. I don't think the written melody as such appeared until about 30 minutes into it. On paper that might sound excruciating to some, but there was never any sense of the music being bogged down or being repetitive. If anything it only seemed to become more and more buoyant and inventive the longer it went, much of it simply due to the love, tremendous energy and sense of adventure that Judy seems to approach playing music.' (Laurence Pike, drummer)

'Playing duo with Judy in our lessons was always a treat. She would often start an improvisation with nothing being said, occasionally launching into a tune that I didn't even know. Through her patience we would get through it and by the end I would have learnt a new piece. When we finished she would always be so encouraging and tell me what a great time she had.' (Jeremy Rose, saxophonist)

'I first met Judy Bailey for my audition at the Conservatorium of Music in 1999. I was completely clueless about anything to do with jazz and she put me right at ease. I was also in awe of her as, not growing up in Sydney, I'd only heard her music on records and was aware of her stature as an Australian jazz musician. We played through the obligatory requirements and I had a blast playing music with the great Judy Bailey, thinking that if I didn't get into the Con at least I got to play with Judy!' (Ben Waples, bassist)

'Over the past 37 years that I've played with Judy, I'd have to say every gig with her has been memorable. If I had to pick one special memory though, it would have to be our trip to India, and a couple of hilarious moments that we had while we were there. No matter whenever we both meet, India always seems to be part of our conversation.' (Col Loughnan, saxophonist)

'Favourite memory of Judy is just watching her play the piano in the trio, especially when she is deciding what to play next. She gets the little smile, says 'oh, yes' and then starts. Usually we don't have the faintest idea of what it will be, which just adds to the fun, actually.' (Craig Scott - bassist)

'When I was just starting out as a drummer, I received a call from Judy asking if I'd be interested in doing a few gigs. I was completely shocked that Judy would want me to be in her band as she is without doubt one of Australia's most extraordinary artists. During that time I was lucky enough to play a number of gigs, as well as make a recording with Judy and I learnt so much from her.' (Simon Barker, drummer)

'My favourite memory of Judy was a recording session we did for ABC Jazz in 2009. This was the culmination of a series of duo performances we had done, and we spent the day in the studio playing tunes and having a ball. Some of the most musical and thoughtful playing I've ever been involved with happened this day and it was the product of Judy and myself having a great time.' (Todd Hardy, trumpeter)

'My favourite memory of Judy is from a tour Craig Scott and I did as part of her trio in mid-2003. It was a road trip to Tamworth, Armidale and Bellingen. Craig drove one car, and I drove the other car, with Judy as my passenger. At one point during an interestingly epistemological conversation whilst we were driving into Tamworth, Judy became transfixed by something she was looking at outside the car window. She pointed out the way the clouds had formed in the sky during the sunset. That part of New South Wales is known as 'big-sky country' so the sky appears to be huge, and the clouds had formed in a way that's difficult to describe in words. The glow from the sunset gave the scene a particular hue that was simply breathtaking to look at. Judy turned to me and said, "Isn't that beautiful?! I will always remember that sunset".' (Dave Goodman, drummer)

Things we learned from Judy

'Her wonderful sense of humour permeated everything she did. I learnt to be in a fun, humorous place whilst still being serious about making great music.' (James Morrison, multi-instrumentalist)

'I was lucky enough to have Judy for a couple of classes at the Conservatorium. I took a unit of counterpoint. It was pretty dry stuff, but the thing that made it worthwhile was getting to hear Judy play those incredible voicings on the piano once a week. Her singing was always a bonus too... In first year I was also in her ensemble class. I had terrible posture, was always hunched over the drums. Judy would walk up behind me while I was playing, 2-3 times a class, put her hands on my shoulders and her knee in my back, and gently lift me upright. I think I was sitting up straight by the end of second semester. She used to talk to us all the time about the physical aspect of playing our instruments, and relaxing. In fact I am pretty sure we started each class with some group stretching and breathing. It's strange that the further I get into playing music, being relaxed is one of the only things I consistently think about, and in hand with that I usually think of Judy Bailey.' (Laurence Pike, drummer)

'Arranging voicings, how to comp on piano in a ballad.' (Graeme Lyall - saxophonist)

'Judy is a truly inspirational character. Everything she has taught me she has done by example, rather than instruction. The best example is that after everything she has been through in her life, and after thousands and thousands of gigs in her career, she is still doing it. Still loving it, and still sounding incredible. I want that throughout my whole career. I really believe that Judy is an unstoppable force. If a nuclear bomb was dropped on the earth, there wouldn't be anyone left except Keith Richards, Judy Bailey and maybe a few cockroaches.' (Tim Firth - drummer)

'I was fortunate enough to study privately with Judy for my third year at the Con. At that stage I was gaining confidence as a player - doing a whole bunch of gigs every night of the week. Even though I was busy and 'getting called', I was still quite insecure about what sound I wanted and how I wanted to approach the bass as a jazz musician and improviser. Judy and I both have perfect pitch and we would usually play through one jazz standard in the 60-minute lesson. It was always extremely easy to play with Judy as her ears allowed her to react, dictate and counteract anything I would play both rhythmically and harmonically. Playing with Judy helped me to realise the absolute importance of using your ears and having the courage to instigate, react as well as the flexibility and compromise needed when playing improvised music. I don't think we ever spoke about what notes/scales to play over what chord - if we did speak about music it would be more approach-based.' (Ben Waples, bassist)

'Playing with Judy is a joy. It's been a constant learning experience for me, and it still is. She's such a complete musician in every respect, and a great human being. The beauty, creativity, surprise and passion in her playing is always present, and is a constant inspiration.' (Col Loughnan, saxophonist)

'She encouraged me to have a distinct awareness of compositional design in improvisation in whatever context - fully improvised music to playing over standards and originals. Most importantly, Judy taught me how to have serious fun and let that come through in the music!' (Jeremy Rose, saxophonist)

'Of the many things I learnt from Judy I think the most significant is the importance of being an inspiring educator as well as a dedicated performer.... they go hand in hand. Not only has Judy given a great deal to the Australian music scene through her compositions and performances, she has inspired and nurtured young talent through her work at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and conducting one of the longest-running youth big bands in Sydney - Jazz Connection. There are generations of professional jazz musicians in Australia, myself included, who have been touched by Judy.' (Todd Hardy, trumpeter)

'The recollection of the sunset story I told you before includes one of the big lessons I learned from Judy, and that is to pay attention to the beauty in the things around you, and to remember the good things. Musically, there are many other little things that go together to form part of the big thing she's taught me, and that is, particularly in composing and arranging, to continue developing aural skills, and to really hear music internally without an external reference from, say, a piano. I'm still working on this, and Judy demonstrates this ability to an extraordinary degree that I aspire to.' (Dave Goodman, drummer)

'Judy is a huge inspiration to so many musicians, and I'm just one of a vast number of players that was very fortunate to have been mentored by her. Judy's ongoing work with emerging musicians is a huge source of inspiration for me, her tireless commitment to creating and education is a constant reminder of the incredible impact one person can have on an entire music scene.' (Simon Barker, drummer)

'What I have learnt from Judy: Harmony, harmony , harmony! So many possibilities that she comes up with, and they are hers.' (Craig Scott - bass)

What are some of the techniques that helped create Judy's sound?

'Judy's early classical study has a lot to do with her beautiful sound, touch, and control over the keyboard I think. But it's her gorgeous voicings, vast knowledge of many genres of music, and how to put it all together in a special way that creates her particular "sound"'. Most importantly, it's just Judy herself.' (Col Loughnan, saxophonist)

'Judy's sound is all about voicings, and mostly or often at least about block voicings. She is a master at that! Also her sound itself is incredible. Standing next to an open grand piano when she is playing is enough to take your head off. It's incredible...I don't know how she does it, she is diminutive in stature and sounds like a giant.' (Craig Scott - bassist)

'What I've always found about Judy is the amazing energy she brings to a performance. I was lucky enough to do a small run of regular Thursday night gigs with Judy a few years ago. The gig was just the two of us in the lobby bar of a city hotel, it started at 8pm and Judy would walk down from the Conservatorium after teaching all day. We would play a bunch of standards I knew and I also learnt a few from Jude on the gig. Judy never approached this gig as a background/musical wallpaper type of gig, and by the time we were close to finishing the gig at 11pm the crowd were on the edge of their seats, the piano was humming and the energy was fantastic. Not only was there a driving energy throughout the whole gig, but what I also learnt on this occasion and many others is that Judy approaches every gig, no matter how big or small as a serious event and gives a concert every time she performs.' (Todd Hardy - trumpeter)

'When playing with Judy I especially loved her approach to playing ballads... Unbelievable stuff!' (Simon Barker, drummer)

'Great attention to detail. She has always been meticulous about manifesting what she hears in her head, no detail is too small to warrant her attention.' (James Morrison, multi-instrumentalist)

'Judy's sound comes from her beautiful use of inner voice leading, her personal approach to re-harmonisation, and her use of thick block chords. She also lets a lot of her classical harmony come into her jazz playing and free improvisation.' (Jeremy Rose, saxophonist)

'Not being a pianist I can't comment on techniques particular to Judy's sound that she would utilise. One comment I would make about Judy's sound is that she sounds like a big band - particular voicings, her tonal and dynamic range, her rhythmic approach... You can always tell Judy's sound.' (Ben Waples, bassist)

'Analysing the writing of Bill Holman, Bill Potts, Marty Paich and Billy May.' (Graeme Lyall)

'Who knows?! That's the mystery. When you hear Judy play on the radio, or on record, you can tell it's her straight away. Not every musician can boast that. She has an incredible weight to her sound. When she plays a chord it sounds like she's got 20 fingers, I don't know how she does it, I mean the sound is huge! And the groove she has is something else. From the 10+ years I've played in her trio and various other ensembles, I figured out right at the beginning that she is the drummer in the band. She leads the beat and the groove, and I follow. That's how strong her groove is, it's amazing to play with.' (Tim Firth - drummer)

'Combined with her highly informed worldview, which seems to be centred around building a life focused primarily on cultivating creativity, I think the internal hearing ability I talked about just now is one of the primary techniques that helps Judy create her sound. Judy told me once that she considers herself more as a composer than as a pianist when she plays piano. I can hear her composing when she plays, but she also has formidable skill as a pianist to pull off that compositional input. Judy is an astonishingly gifted and inspiring person, and it really is a privilege to be able to share these thoughts on the occasion of her 80th birthday - happy birthday Jude!' (Dave Goodman, drummer)

AMC resources

Judy Bailey - AMC profile

Further links

Judy Bailey's Jazz Connection (www.jazzconnection.com.au)
Jazz Voices: Judy Bailey - an interview by Andrew Dickeson and Gai Bryant on ABC RN's Into the Music series (2014, podcast MP3)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Jeremy Rose's new Quartet album Sand Lines will be launched on 12 November in Sydney and 15 November in Melbourne. See also homepage at www.jeremyrose.com.au, Jeremy's label Earshift Music and @jeremyrose on Twitter.


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