A Jazz Instructor Supreme

Jamey Aebersold 330

You might have heard of Jamey Aebersold as a performer; but more than likely, you’ve heard of him through his music education site JazzBooks.com. Those fantastic play-alongs, those books with exercises and scales and arpeggios – somebody had to put it all together. Enter Jamey.

Still active as a performer, this guy is tireless, having just finished two back-to-back weeks running his annual jazz camp in Louisville, KY. It’s been going strong for over 50 years. This year, over 200 lucky instrumentalists came from all over the globe to participate. Huge, loving props to Mr. Aebersold for all he does!

Did it surprise you to receive an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 2014?

Very much so. Many of my jazz idols were jazz masters.

When and how did you come up with the idea of the play-along CD?

It was my idea to NOT have someone improvising. Just have accompaniment to play and practice with. The Music Minus One company had Clark Terry and others playing their recordings.

Of all the instruments you play, which do you consider your primary ones?

Alto and tenor sax. In the 70s and 80s it was upright bass!

What was Jazz Camp like this year?

Yes, two back-to-back weeks at the University of Louisville [KY]. Best two weeks ever this year!

How far away do students come for Jazz Camp and how many are enrolled?

We had 273 each week. China was probably the furthest away. About 20 countries were represented.

Do they have to audition?

Each has a 5-minute audition on the first day.

Based on the activity on your site – your instruction books at jazzbooks.com – do you feel jazz is becoming less or more popular, or holding steady?

Probably holding steady. We could use more young people learning and playing jazz!

What books do you sell the most of, and what instrument do you think most of your customers play?

Volumes 1 and 54 of play-alongs, and Kenny Werner’s “Effortless Mastery” paperback. Main instruments: piano, sax and guitar.

Counting off on these instructional CDs is so helpful; just something simple like that gets the student ready. What do you think?

Yes. I love it and I hate it when the drummer clicks his sticks together for the count-off, like on some other play-alongs!

Your Quartet- who are the personnel and when did you form the band?

I’ve had a quartet for many years. The main people are Jonathan Higgins (drums); Tyrone Wheeler (bass); and Steve Crews (piano).

Where will you be playing/touring for the rest of 2017?

Various places within 300 miles of New Albany [Indiana].

What was your favorite venue?

Lincoln Center for NEA ceremony!

Where would you like to play that you have not?

Every elementary school in America.

What age did you realize you wanted to be a musician?

Very early. Began piano at age 5.

Was your family supportive of your choice of career?


Who are some of your favorite jazz artists?

Too many to list.

How did you first learn how to improvise?

It’s always evolving, but I played by ear and the seat of my pants for way too long!

What university workshops are the most memorable?

Elmhurst – UNC; Greeley – Colorado; University of Louisville. They have great educators/clinicians and monster guest artists.

Which part of the country would you like to teach at that you have not yet?

Anywhere I haven’t been.

What is the most often-asked question you hear from students?

Can I have your autograph?

Which MODE do you like best in jazz and why?

Dorian (but I really love all of them because each has a unique sound).

What is the most important element to succeed in improv?


Current projects?


Other comments?

This was thought-provoking!

Photos with permission of the artist

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


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