The Big Issue : Edition 475
20 THEBIGISSUE9–22JAN2015 MOST OF THE space in Jean McDougall’s lounge room is taken up by a shiny, upright piano. The rest of the house, in suburban Melbourne, is neat as a pin: small ornaments perch on side tables, and colourful cards from grandchildren pepper the walls and fridge door. Jean, wearing a pink cardigan and with tidy white hair, immediately puts the kettle on. She has baked goodies, bought from the church stall in readiness for my visit. But despite first appearances, Jean is not your average 92-year-old. She has, in fact, just recorded her second album. When we are settled, dunking peanut cookies into our tea, I ask her about her recording career. playing ‘Twelfth Street Rag’ when the teacher came in. Oh dear,” she says with a small grin. “I could pick it up quicker by ear than reading the music, which wasn’t seen to be a good thing. And yet, looking back on things, I’d rather do things my way.” Earlier, John had described his mothers’ process for learning new tunes. “When she is researching new material, she rings me up and tells me what she is after. She gets me to go on to YouTube, then I put the phone near the computer speakers and she listens on the other end,” he explained. “She mentally transcribes the tune to piano and a few minutes later is playing away! “Recording career!” she throws her head back with a wheezy laugh. “Well, I play the piano.” This year, with the help of her son, John, and her grandchildren, Rory and Tara, Jean recorded 92 Not Out on the piano in the living room, the same piano she has played almost every day since she was seven years old. Her first album was Jean on 88, named for her age at the time and the number of keys on a piano. Although her recordings would come much later, Jean studied music formally as a child. She did things a little differently, even then. “I was learning at school and I was learning properly. I got a detention once because I was PHOTOGRAPHSBYCHRISTINASIMMONS Playing On KATHERINE SMYRK ATTENDS THE CONCERT OF A LIFETIME.