Considered a legend amongst musicians who have been playing in Australia in the least 40 years, Ray Alldridge has mixed emotions about retiring after learning, playing and teaching piano for over 60 years.
While there have been many highlights throughout his career Ray agrees that people remember him mostly for his live TV appearances from his time on Channel 9. But how did his music career start?
“I started learning piano with the nuns when I was very young but they kept hitting me across the knuckles, so I stopped. Then I took up weekly lessons with Miss Kitson in Brisbane from aged 12 for a few years and that’s when I learnt how to play and completed some exams.”
As a young teen (14) he worked in the Palings music shop in Brisbane where he met all sorts of musicians and read many of the music books in the store.
“I was able to teach myself quite a bit through reading those books.” Said Ray.
But it was when Ray moved to Sydney in 1969 where he started playing piano in clubs that he found his love was jazz piano. He completed an Associate Diploma in Jazz Studies at Sydney Con between 1973-74 for the sole purpose of having some formal training, but it was experience that was important to Ray.
In 1973 he joined the jazz-funk band called the Daly-Wilson Big Band, and was able to tour Russia as part of a cultural exchange program (initiated by the prime minister at the time Gough Whitlam). Part of that tour also included working in Las Vegas in the US. Ray describes this time as a great experience and one that really launched his jazz career.
While there have been many highlights throughout his career Ray agrees that people remember him mostly from his time on Channel 9. During the mid 70’s he worked alongside Geoff Harvey where he learnt the ropes for live television.
“You had to learn a lot very quickly – this was live TV!”
Ray Alldridge eventually took over as the Ray Martin Midday show Music Director, leading a 10-piece band. He describes each day as a challenge but enjoyable.
“There were 2 or 3 music acts for each show, and very little time for preparation. Usually, one rehearsal and one run through with the cameras before going live to air. Occasionally an act wouldn’t turn up – so we had a music gap to fill.”
Another highlight for Ray was being part of Galapagos Duck, a jazz/R&B/soul band which played around Australia but also toured overseas including at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland) and other festivals throughout Europe.
As a Music Director, pianist and arranger in Australia Ray has worked with Rhonda Burchmore, Grace Knight, Tim Draxl, Christine Anu, Monica Trapaga, and has performed regularly at the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne and Adelaide Festival Halls and other Concert Halls around the country, as well as leading jazz clubs and bands.
For the last 10 years Ray has focussed his teaching at WollCon and he’s enjoyed every single day of it, in particular the older jazz improvisation students. As he approaches 79 this year, he made the decision to retire.
“It was truly an honour to have someone with Ray’s skill experience on staff here. He had a huge impact especially on pianist Marley Rooney who is currently playing professionally in Sydney and Ashton Brown who was a member of the WollCon Jazz Orchestra for several years. And on a personal note, both my son and daughter studied piano with Ray, and they loved coming to their lessons and always commented on how kind he was.”
“I wont’ be completely retiring – jazz piano is still very much part of life and always will be.” Said Ray.
You can still catch Ray being part of a weekly gig with the Bill Burton band at the Avalon Bowling Club in Sydney, with Craig Scott on bass and Ron Lemke on drums.