When I was at student at high school, Melinda’s Mini March was THE piece that everyone wanted to play. Even the non-music kids would branch out beyond the dreaded chopsticks to learn just enough to fumble their way through, or at least learn one hand so as to duet with the piano kids. It is the sound of my childhood and one piece that still resonates with piano teachers and piano students of today (I think we can all agree that we still LOVE it!). We chatted with Kerin Bailey about Melinda’s Mini March and more…
Do you still like Melinda’s Mini March?
I do! This was my first composition for piano and it’s been a bestseller – due largely to the popularity of this little piece.
When your music first came out, teachers had no real experience playing, let alone teaching music that sounded so authentically jazz-like. What changes have you seen amongst piano teachers over the past 20 years?
Jazzin’ Around 1 was published in 1982 – 30 years ago (a year or two before Christopher Norton’s Microjazz). I wrote it because there was virtually nothing available that I was aware of in these styles – in particular being accessible to younger students. My goal was to reach students of traditional piano teachers – to give them the experience I wish I’d had as a student. Since then all examining bodies have included jazz and popular styles in their syllabi – so teachers are spoilt for choice – and consequently are more able to keep students motivated. I have always found piano teachers amenable to these styles.
My goal was to reach students of traditional piano teachers – to give them the experience I wish I’d had as a student.
You are famous in piano teaching circles around Australia for your piano pieces, but what other instruments have you written for? And why?
I have written for all the popular instruments – recently adding French Horn to the Jazz Incorporated series for winds and brass – Flute, Alto and Tenor Saxophones, Clarinet, Trumpet, Trombone etc. I have added strings to the Jazzin’ Around series – Violin, Viola and Cello. Last year I published Five Dances for Flute and Piano – a suite of jazz/Latin inspired pieces for more advanced students/professionals.
Do you play any other instruments?
I took up trumpet as a second instrument at 15 and over the years have done many gigs as a (rather ordinary) trumpet player. I learnt and played flute for a few years – and learnt violin before composing Jazzin’ Around for Strings – giving myself some repertoire in this medium. All these instruments have been (sadly) languishing in their cases in recent years.
Your music incorporates opportunities for students to improvise. Do you have any tips for teachers introducing improvising to their students for the first time? Or tips for teachers who are trying to improvise themselves for the first time?
According to my mother I was ad-libbing on the piano from the first lesson at age 7. I acquired this facility by listening to and copying solos on recordings by American jazz stars. I strongly recommend this for students and teachers as a first (and on-going) step. Playing notated jazz such as in my (and other quality) publications is highly beneficial – especially playing along with backing tracks. Music with chord symbols is necessary for an understanding of chord voicings and harmonic progressions. My book Rhythm Unravelled is an excellent source of rhythmic phrases, syncopation and appropriate articulation. A good teacher wouldn’t go astray either!
You have travelled all over Australia giving workshops on your music and on teaching and playing jazz styles. What are some of the most unusual or remote places you have been?
I have given workshops in all capital cities – recently for the Essington School in Darwin. In 1995 I toured Queensland for the MTAQ – including Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Mt Isa. For a South Australian Mackay was interesting – it was raining when I arrived and continued unabated until I left over 24 hours later! I once did a gig with a piano accordionist on a piano that was a semitone flat – so I had to transpose everything up a semitone.
Do you still teach? Do you examine? Do you gig – and if so, what kind/styles of music?
My teaching load has drifted up to about 30 students – some advanced classical which is keeping me on my toes. I am an AMEB examiner and am still gigging – having started playing for dances at age 11! Mainly jazz – but I love ripping into 50’s ‘rock and roll’. My favourite gigs are concerts with my trio – which includes swinging arrangements of composers Mozart, Bach, Debussy and Ravel. Few and far between unfortunately!
My favourite gigs are concerts with my trio – which includes arrangements of composers Mozart, Bach, Debussy and Ravel.