Jazz singer and university music teacher Jennine Bailey changed her tune in academia, substituting performance to research the inner-workings of the Christchurch jazz community.
Bailey’s recently completed Master of Arts thesis, “We are a jazz world, but we’re a pretty small one”, used oral history to study the complexities of the jazz scene.
The title of the thesis is a direct quote from Stu Buchanan, the late saxophonist, who taught and played in Christchurch.
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Following a performance degree at CPIT Jazz School (now Ara School of Music and Arts) in the late 1990s, she completed a performance honours degree at Canterbury University.
In 2011, she began her Master’s thesis. She wasn’t expected to do the thesis but felt “obligated to do it as a teacher”.
When she started, she “didn’t really know what oral history was”, but was introduced to a textbook of oral history and had an “intense emotional reaction”.
“I think I cried,” she said. “Crying from reading a textbook is so sad, but I knew that I had such a strong reaction from it, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue”.
Over a six-year period, Bailey interviewed eight Christchurch jazz musicians to discover what was going on behind the stage.
She spoke to saxophonist Stu Buchanan, woodwind player Reuben Derrick, singer Naomi Ferguson, harmonica player Nola Muir, Ara Music and Arts School founder Neill Pickard, pianist Tom Rainey, bassist Michael Story and woodwind player Danny Wilson.
She found it fascinating how the musicians she interviewed positioned themselves in the community. “You can have a community that looks very cohesive and structured from the outside but, from the inside, is very dynamic. There’s lots of conflict, it’s incredibly fragmented and everchanging.
“It made me question why I was doing jazz and where I wanted to go musically. I kind of had to grow up really,” she said.
Reuben Derrick said the situation which Bailey had encountered had changed since the 1990s, when he was at jazz school. He said there were now “various jazz communities, not a contained community”. He had noticed this change even before the earthquakes.
The scene today was one of more limited venues, such as Dim7th and Blue Smoke.
“It’s hard to get a gig for more than a 2 or 3-piece unless it’s a festival,” Derrick said.
He said this change could be part of a “cultural trend”.
“Young people think jazz needs to be polite and inoffensive, but it should get in people’s faces.”
Bailey received an A-grade for her thesis. She had no idea if she was going in the right direction and was “pretty euphoric” with the result, especially because it was a “sidestep” from her performance-based degrees.
The thesis changed how Bailey taught. She has been teaching for 25 years and said the academic study was a “good way of having a fresh approach”.
“I’m a very different teacher, because the process of how you’re taught to think, look and analyse as an academic means I can apply myself a little bit more.”
The recordings for her oral history thesis will be deposited in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.
Beyond study, Bailey teaches contemporary vocal performance at the University of Canterbury, St Andrew’s College and privately. She is a well-known performer in the city and further afield.
The remainder of 2017 will be a little less academic for Bailey. It’ll be about “hobbies, paddle boarding, sitting on the couch reading crap”, she said.
“I’m focusing on being a better teacher and mum. I want to throw myself a lot into performing again.”
Bailey is also working on a “proper release” of her second album. The album, In the Mood for Love, was released on iTunes in January but there had been no physical CD release.
Bailey has not set a release date, but expects it will be out soon.