Published in the Warrandyte Diary, February, 2014
After going to his first concert at 15, Jay Smith decided he had to pursue a career in music.
The Warrandyte guitar teacher says watching Sting play solo at Festival in April 1986 inspired him to pick up a guitar, and ever since he has never looked back.
“It was like this light switched on and I just had to play music. My friend at the time was playing a bit of guitar and he said have a try at this and I started playing away, tryng to make the different shapes and then it all just went form there,” he said.
He quickly took up guitar lessons and after he finished studying at Box Hill he thought he would continue with his studies at university.
However, his talent as a musician had amazed his teachers and he was quickly offered a job as a teacher, where he was showing adults twice his age how to play guitar. His practice sheet also became Box Hill’s syllabus and Jay says they’re still using it twenty years later.
“I had a really fantastic lecturer and he said the greatest teachers are those that are learning from their students. So I always make sure I keep an open mind because I don’t know everything – we’re all still learning everyday. But it’s all about self improvement. I’ve never really thought about it being a job I just saw it as being vocational.”
“Everything I’ve ever done has always been presented to me. I just tried to take my passion for the instrument and see if I could turn that into a living and I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to do that,” he said.
While at Box Hill he also taught Chris Cheney from the Living End during his final year of schooling, and only a few years later Jay was playing Chris’ tracks in a cover band.
Originally from Beaumaris, Jay eventually decided to leave Box Hill in the late 1990s and head to London, where his life and career took a whole new twist.
Within two days of touching down in London, he walked into the biggest record store he could find and asked for a job. As luck had it, they were looking to hire somebody and so began Jay’s new career in the music retail and wholesale industry.
“I was basically working for rockstars. I was mostly dealing with their people, sorting out their gear, finding equipment and sorting out technical issues for them. It was incredible because these were the guys I had transcribed from record – guys like Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones.”
“It was funny because one day I was looking in the work room and we had one guitar form Ash, there was another one from Blur, Oasis, then there was Dave Gilmour’s guitar from Pink Floyd sitting there. I was sitting there and looking around thinking ‘I’m a long is a long way from Beaumaris! This stuff just doesn’t happen!’”
After a few years in retail management, Jay says he literally woke up one morning and decided to do something different.
He had been doing some work for an engineer and producer who worked with Madonna and Oasis, who asked Jay if he knew of any teachers. When Jay replied that he’d like to get back into teaching, he ended up giving Madonna and Guy Ritchie lessons for a year.
“I was in their home looking at all these paintings on the wall and I couldn’t believe it – I thought I’m in another world! I’m sitting there with Madonna and I sort of didn’t know how to approach her but she was really cool about everything. She already knew how to play, but she wanted to write her own album and wanted me to give her the tools to help her create music. With Guy, he was really into Irish music.”
Jay says teaching is his passion, and he sees it as a way of helping nurture the next generation of musicians.
A few years later Jay and his wife, Valerie – a well-respected hairdresser in the industry – were looking at moving somewhere in Europe.
But by chance they found Warrandyte after visiting a friend in the area and Jay says he fell in love with the energy and the creative vibe.
Today, he’s a full-time teacher, working with students from his Warrandyte home.
He says there are few places in the world where he has come across a city with an incredible skill level – Melbourne, and in particular Warrandyte, is one of them.
He says Warrandyte has a lot of incredibly talented guitarists, including Maxine Price, 16 and her 18-year-old brother Jack.
Jay started teaching Jack when he was 13, and he reckons these two would give musicians like Kimbra “a run for her money”.
“They’re just sensational, absolutely amazing. Really, I’m the lucky one because there’s an incredible amount of potential in Warrandyte and I’m just lucky to help these students get to where they want, wherever that may be.”