WHAT I KNOW NOW
Jamey Aebersold Jamey Aebersold, 78, is an internationally known jazz musician and educator. In 1967 he founded Jazz Books, a company that offers jazz Play-A-Longs, which are music books and CDs for developing improvisational skills. Fifty years later his company is still going strong, and so is he. He lives in New Albany, Indiana. By Lucy M. Pritchett / Photo provided by Jamey Aebersold A defining moment in your life?
I took up the saxophone when I was about 10. About that time, I read that jazz was the coming thing. I rode my bike to the record store and brought home two 78 RPM records — one by Duke Ellington and one by jazz trombonist Kid Ory. That started me on the jazz road. How have you spread the word about jazz?
Fifty years ago we started the Summer Jazz Workshop — two one-week sessions — at the University of Louisville. People come from all over, and we are seeing more and more older adults. We usually have about 500 people attend. Some have been coming for over 20 years. We have had participants from all over the world — China, Japan, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Canada. What is important when working with students?
I try to tell the truth. You don't want to give them wrong information. How do you motivate others?
Play the music for them. Give them an explanation of this scale or this pattern. Tell them that this is how 34
Spring 2018 / TodaysTransitions.com
Louis Armstrong played. Listening to records of others is extremely important. I also tell my students that I am an example of someone who doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs. I tell them that instead of spending money on cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, I spent my money buying records and eating healthy. What should every man experience in his life?
Joy and happiness. I've gotten those from helping other people. I have a prison ministry, and I donate instruments to inmates. I am a huge anti-smoking campaigner. I lost too many friends and fellow musicians to lung cancer. I put my money where my mouth is. I pay for three anti-smoking billboards along I-65. Cigarettes are weapons of mass destruction. There is nothing good there. What is a non-career accomplishment you are proud of?
I never played basketball in school, maybe just a little alley ball, so I'm pretty proud of the fact that I once shot 26 three-pointers in a row along with rebounding my own ball and 53 free throws in a row.
In 2014, Jamey was awarded The National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, the nation's highest honor in jazz. He is in the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with a retrospective exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Art & History. Who were some of your role models when you were young?
All the jazz people I was listening to. I had the enthusiasm for jazz but no direction. I was fortunate enough to be able to take private lessons from composer and teacher David Baker. He's the one who gave my music direction. Where did you listen to live jazz?
I would go to Louisville to some of the jazz places and hear the music in its natural environment. I got to know some of the musicians making a living playing music, and it helped me to see what I could be doing. It all sounded like magic to me. What were your plans for yourself?
I thought perhaps I’d get married and go to a disadvantaged country and show them how to get water
out of the ground for free. That idea got pushed out by music, but I originally came on the planet thinking that. What does the average American not understand about music education?
Today they teach by the music sheet. They teach you to read music, but they don't teach that music can be a lifelong enjoyment, that it is something you can continue with your entire life and that it offers lots of returns. How do you keep your spirits up?
I think positively. I'm interested in spirituality, and I attend a study group at Unity Church. I read a lot and try to be open-minded and tolerant. I read inspiring books and hang out with inspiring people and take my vitamins.