The first Friday evening in March was a special one for Audrey Bailey. As part of a regular jazz series she runs, the auditorium at Glenlyon-Norfolk school was turned into a coffeehouse, complete with cloth-covered tables and candles.
About 175 people were in attendance to hear the school’s jazz band, which Bailey teaches. Well-known saxophonist Phil Dwyer, one of Bailey’s first students, brought his trio to play with the band.
What made the evening stellar was that it was the last one Bailey will organize. In June, after 21 years of teaching band at Glenlyon, she will retire.
“It was a bittersweet night,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to the next phase.” Teaching music in a school is a young person’s job, Bailey said.
“It requires a huge amount of energy and at this point in my life doing a job like this is all I can do,” she said.
She hopes to open a music studio in her Oak Bay home and teach students one-on-one. That career downsizing will allow her to do more of her own playing. One night a week she plays with the Don Leppard big band and used to with Hypatia Women’s Jazz Orchestra.
Bailey grew up in Nanaimo and attended Diana Krall’s alma mater, Nanaimo District secondary.
Krall’s mentor Brian Stovell began teaching just as Bailey was set to graduate. She played with the school’s teachers band as a teen and went on to study music at UVic.
She taught at Royal Oak middle school and Parkland secondary before heading to Glenlyon.
“At that time there was no jazz band and virtually no band program at all,” she said. She got to build a program from the ground up.
Today she teaches concert and jazz band for Grades 6 to 12. She’s taken her students to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho and twice to Hawaii, the last time playing at Punahou school, where U.S. President Barack Obama went to high school.
In Oak Bay, the Glenlyon bands have been fixtures playing at annual Christmas light-up, and gallery walk events.
Light-up organizer Heather Leary said Bailey brings a significant energy to the event.
“Sometimes she contacts me before I contact her. She’s a big community supporter and she inspires it in the kids too – I can see it when they come out.”
Glenlyon student and flautist Wonjun Jeong has been studying jazz for four years at the school and said Bailey is a good teacher.
“She knows how to make the band better. She plays with us and teaches us every part carefully.”
Married and with two children who studied music at Oak Bay High, Bailey has spent time raising money for public school music programs. She’s well aware of how fortunate she has been to teach at an independent school.
“I got to make my mark, to set some kind of vision and just do it.”
Back in the classroom after the coffeehouse and teaching a Grade 6 group, Bailey was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm.
“They were loving every minute of what they were doing. You walk away from that and think ‘This is pretty fun.’”