Jamey Aebersold Jazz publish and sell the world's most complete selection of jazz education materials. Most all are hand-picked and approved by Jamey himself! For 50 years, Jamey Aebersold Jazz has been providing the very best in jazz education ... and we plan to continue jazz education for another 50 years!
This is my 50th year of putting out Play-A-Long records. I started in 1967 with Chuck Suber, who was the editor of Downbeat magazine. He said if you make an LP and a booklet, I will buy 100. So, I decided to give it a try. Fifty years later there are millions of people who have
played with them, and it has helped them. I never intended to put out more than one; I didn’t think there would be any need for more than one. We have 133 now.
I didn’t dream when I started that some of the Play-A-Longs would teach scales and chords. I learned along the way that students did not know their scales and chords. That was why when they played the blues, they had no idea what the were doing. We released a number of pedagogical ones, and I think these changed the way musicians practice. I think people realized that if I thought it was important then they should practice it. I hope the idea of playing whatever you want and letting your fingers go during an improvised solo has been reduced a bit. If the chord is a C chord, that is the basic scale students should play off of.
Improvising Without Fear
Improvising can be scary, and we should dispel the myth that someone might not have the ability to improvise. One way to do that is to put students in a situation where they probably start out playing a scale. They need confidence. The reason for the emphasis on practicing scales, chords, and arpeggios and learning melodies like Perdido or Satin Doll and numerous blues in the Bb and F is that these are part of the basic jazz language. Everybody has to do that sooner or later. If you wait until later, that probably means that you wasted a lot of time earlier, just beating around in the bush and trying to find something that sounds good.
If all students were taught to improvise as they come up through school, I guarantee that musical instrument companies would love it. People would get out of school and continue to play their instruments because they know how to improvise. They could play anywhere just for the enjoyment. Some do continue, but I would bet that the 98% who did not learn to improvise, never play music anymore. They listen to it, but they don’t play it. That’s sad.
The ego plays a part in this, too. It does not want you to sound bad. Once you start improvising the ego does not want you to play wrong notes, get lost, and stop at the wrong time. Nothing could be worse. The ego will discourage people from signing up for jazz band in the first place.
Learning How to Listen
People who want to learn jazz have to listen to records. Many people listen to big band records, but the soloing is limited and the backgrounds can be busy and complex. I strongly suggest listening to combo records. Ear training is also important. I was at a college and playing a blues on my saxophone. I went slowly and outlined the key notes so anyone who had listened to jazz would know within four or five measures that I was playing a blues. I didn’t play a melody, I just made it up. Nobody raised their hand that they recognized the blues. Ear training has to be coupled with application, but that is often overlooked. People may practice the scales
and chords, but when they start to improvise they don’t get the relationship of the roots, thirds, fifths, and sevenths and how important they are for both players and listeners.
Many people rely on bass, guitar, and piano to lay down the harmony, and then they play seemingly randomly. They would never speak that way because their sentences would make no sense. When we talk we are always communicating. In jazz it has gone on way too long that someone pick up an instrument and plays for 12 bars, having no relationship to the piano, bass, guitar, and drums. That is sad, but goes back to teachers.
Training Every Teacher
If a teacher does not have someone to help teach improvisation or does not seek outside instruction about how to teach it, then the most likely result is choosing big band charts with no solo space. If there is no soloing, it’s not really jazz.
I do not think that colleges and universities have caught up with what is needed for band directors to go out and teach jazz band or have a combo in the high school or the middle school that meets every day. Few colleges have a required course on teaching jazz that includes learning what materials to buy and how to teach students to improvise. I thought a long time ago that it would eventually be covered, and there would be no future need for our summer jazz workshops because it would be covered in school.
If every college student might end up in a job with a jazz band or a combo, we would not let them out of college unless they could improvise a decent blues solo, play two or three tunes, describe the tunes harmonically and rhythmically, and list what they might expect from a beginning jazz band starting on this blues. We wouldn’t give them a degree, although we all know that happens. We graduate music education majors, and they realize too late that they know nothing about jazz. Too many band directors learn on the spot, which is unfortunate. I taught an improv class for 12 years at the University of Louisville. Everybody that majored in music education had to take my class. I had violins, trombones, vibraphones, and everything else. They learned a great deal in one semester’s time. That doesn’tmean that they ended up being improvisers, but they at least knew what to do if they got a job. They had some basis to start.
I have always thought it was important to study with a jazz teacher. You may also be studying with a classical teacher on sound, articulation, and how to read, but it is great if that person is interested in jazz. I have noticed over the last 20 or 30 years that the jazz players who have become educators are really well-equipped. Once you can do something yourself it is easier to teach it. When you haven’t been shown how to do it and your job is to teach it, this can get scary.
The Initial Breakthrough
When I was a 21-year-old teacher in Seymour, Indiana, I had a flute player with a great sound and great technique. We had ten minutes left in her lesson, so I asked her to improvise on a D minor scale in two octaves. She played it up and down. There was a little piano in the practice room, so I played a walking bass line in that keyand told her to play whatever she wanted to play.
I had never asked anybody to do this before. Right away I realized she was playing nice two-bar phrases, which she was singing in her head. We did that for a couple of minutes, and I stopped and said, “let’s go up a half step.” We went to Eb. I had her play the scale two octaves, then we tried improv again, and she did just great. We came back down to D minor and played it again, this time with the chord progression from So What. That’s what got me started – a young girl who could improvise with nice phrases without ever having done it before. She didn’t have a stack of records like jazz players do. That made me wonder if everybody could do this.
The Sounds in Your Head
I discovered that if I sit at the piano and slowly play a random but logically flowing chord progression, anyone can sing a solo to go along with it. I’m not trying to trick anybody; the voice is a magical instrument, and the mind can sing great solos if the tempo is not too fast and the chord progression is not difficult. I have done this over and over, and that’s where my “anyone can improvise” words came from. Once I was giving a clinic in New Hampshire. I asked for a volunteer to come up with their saxophone and try to play along with me while I played some random chords on the piano. The volunteer sounded awful. Then I asked him to grab the microphone and sing for me instead, and he sounded great. He included notes that might take improvisers three years to play on their instrument. It was very musical. All of the other students applauded; it sounded like music.
Unless someone is nervous, nine times out of ten people can sing a good solo. It made me a true believer. The instrument holds you back. The instrument cannot match what the person hears in their head. When in the early stages of learning improvisation, that is just enough to make someone give it up. The ego says, “I told you that you couldn’t do it.”
To create a desire to improvise, you have to listen. Unfortunately, jazz standards have been uncommon in the home for many years now. Everything came to a gradual halt starting with Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and country and western music. As Wynton Marsalis has noted, before about 1956, there was no such thing as teen music or top 40. We weren’t keeping track of who was the biggest seller. With improvisation there is a satisfaction that you can’t get any other way in music. To play a solo by yourself with a rhythm section and be in control of every note is like talking on a subject. You don’t get lost or lose your place. You feel confident and people applaud. There’s just nothing better.
Jazz is an amazing fusion of multiple genres, developed in New Orleans through African-American communities in the late 19th century. Although initially controversial, jazz found its place within popular culture and the scene is still thriving today – its relevance is seen in movies, games and continues to influence pop music immeasurably. Blending blues, ragtime, classical and other popular genres of the era, jazz drew on these influences and broke the rules of them all to create a highly distinct sound. As a beginner, learning jazz guitar can initially seem daunting. This tutorial will require some basic knowledge of chords, scales and harmony, but is beginner-friendly enough to give you a great introduction to playing jazz on your guitar. If you want to learn how to master jazz on guitar, practicing the following regularly will help you reach your goals faster as you begin to connect the dots.
Practice Your Scales
Although it may seem pretty mundane – the strongest foundation you can create for mastering jazz guitar is practicing your scales. Yep. That means all of them. It’s important to be committed to a regular practice schedule daily. And remember, it’s going to be a lot more beneficial for you to have frequent, short bursts of practice sessions compared to one long, drawn out practice session once a week. Practicing your scales is a little like going for a workout at the gym. It takes some motivation and discipline to integrate it as a habit in your life, but once you do, you will start noticing the benefits rippling into all aspects of your playing. This means not just your basic major and minor scales, but your modes too. Cycling through each Major and Minor scale mode, as well as pentatonic scales, bebop and blues scales; these will be your keys to leveling up and progressing. The most important thing to focus on, at least initially; is accuracy. There’s no point trying to rush through the scale if you’re fumbling through it and making errors every step of the way. Once you can play through the scales at a given speed with total accuracy, increase the tempo. Continue repeating this process until you’re powering through those scales!
The Main Jazz Chords
Practicing your chords regularly will solidify and consolidate your jazz knowledge. The 7th chord is going to be your best friend in nurturing this skill! The sound is full, and rich when compared to the basic triad and is used everywhere in popular jazz compositions.
The most fundamental 7th chords include:
● Major 7th
● Minor 7th
● Dominant 7th
● Minor 7b5
● Diminished 7th
Practicing your chords in the context of an actual progression will be a great way to see the function of the chords in action.
There are some common chord progressions within jazz that you can get started practicing on straight away!
2 – 5 – 1
ii – V – I
This is the most commonly used jazz chord progression – this one is nearly in every jazz standard! Popular tunes utilizing this progression include ‘Autumn Leaves’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Satin Doll’.
1 – 6 – 2 – 5
I – VI – II – V
Another popular progression, known as the ‘Turnaround’ as it creates a natural, cyclic sounding harmony. Many songs simply cycle around this progression throughout. Tunes featuring this chord progression include ‘Take the A Train’ and ‘My Romance’.
Practice these chord progressions in all 12 keys and you will be well on your way to knowing them inside out. Also, try playing these chords as arpeggios. This will not only be fantastic in training your ears to hear the individual notes comprising the chord, but also increasing your dexterity at the same time! Once you begin to get confident playing through these progressions, that’s when the real fun begins! You can start embellishing them, and experiment with changing the voicing. Which leads to the next fundamental practice.
Jazz was born out of improvisation and is inherently a beautiful balance of controlled spontaneity. Upgrading your skills in improvisation will be one of the most fruitful practices to mastering jazz guitar. Pick a key, a mode or a scale and challenge yourself to improvise along to it. Try it for 10 minutes of your routine practice and you’ll find how quickly you will settle right in! Don’t be discouraged if you’re not shredding like Montgomery the first time around. It’s normal to feel a blockage. You may feel like you don’t have any ideas. All of this is to be expected – you’re training a creative muscle that hasn’t been flexed much before. Allow yourself the space to relax and don’t be hard on yourself – you’ll find your creativity will begin to flourish once you just let go!
Learn From The Greats
Find your favorite jazz songs and learn to play them. But even more importantly; study them. Pick them apart. What kind of movement is happening in the song? What chordal choices did they make in the piece? How did they pivot from one key to another seamlessly? What are some shared attributes of your favorite jazz tunes?
A great way to consolidate your knowledge is to use all your senses. Critically listen. When you’re learning a new piece, try to hear the scale or mode of the piece. Then, feel it out. Try to improvise new chords alongside the melody or even try soloing over progressions of a jazz standard. Studying these elements from the perspective of composition will give you a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Jazz is one the most complex and interesting genres of music and there’s a lot to discover! This will also give you the opportunity to expand your repertoire. Learning to play as many jazz standards as possible is how nearly every great jazz guitarist became great.
Jazz is fundamentally an improvisational style of music, there’s a lot of freedom within the genre; it’s rich with diverse elements and history. Jazz form is essentially exploratory and this inherent freedom is interestingly what has created some of the most talented instrumentalists and composers throughout history. Connecting with your instrument and committing yourself to a routine practice that incorporates the guidelines mentioned above is what will really push you forward to mastering jazz guitar.
Start practicing today, because it really is this simple!
You can now register for the 2018 Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops at the University of Louisville!
Our Summer Jazz Workshops are for all ages … all abilities … and all instruments … including:
Adults of All Ages
Middle / High School Students
Retired & Ready to Jam!
College Students / College Prep
Hobbyists & Professionals
We hope you take this opportunity to see why our workshops are the place to hone your jazz skills. Don’t miss out, get signed up, and bring your friends!
Our workshops are a complete submersion into jazz and improvisation. Participants get Jazz Theory, Combos, Master Classes, Jam Sessions, and more. More than 20 faculty concerts, and as much as 40 hours of classes and jam sessions makes these workshop unique. This is the experience of a lifetime. While you might be wondering if this workshop is for you, many will say it’s the only workshop to consider. Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can experience today. A week with us could change your life!
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Well, I was just sorting through some photos and picked a CD without looking at it and put it in the CD player. Right away I recognized McCoy and then in comes Freddie. It was bringing back some strong recollections. By the time they got to Birdlike, it dawned on me how much Freddie’s solo on that track has influenced my lines. That album was made in 1962 and I was just getting my masters in sax at Indiana University, 55 years ago.
Freddie, Freddie. He never called me Jamey. Always, AEBERSOLD! The last time I saw him was at an IAJE convention in Anaheim, CA and he was signing autographs in a booth. He saw me and said something like: “Aebersold, I ain’t dead yet!”
When I was studying with Tal Farlow at his house from 1992 – 1997, he always had some of Jamey’s Play-A-Longs going when I would come over for a lesson. Sometimes he would be just listening to them as background music while he did chores silently. I think he would be soloing in his head while doing the dishes, etc. I started doing that too after I saw him do it. Then you can create lines in your head that would be limited by one’s technical level on the instrument. After practicing with a Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long in your head without an instrument, when you go back to playing with it on an instrument, a different place is reached and physical cliches are left behind.
Jamey performs at one in a series of events of jazz concerts sponsored by Jamey Aebersold himself at The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County in Cincinnati, OH. These jazz concerts happen once a month and you can get the full schedule here to find out exactly when and who will be performing. Jamey has graciously made available his latest performance from Oct. 2017 here for you to enjoy.
A few weeks ago, on a Friday night after the NAHS football game was long over I drove into the school parking lot to ask some students who had won the game. I found three that looked to be middle school age and asked them. They told me the score and one boy, after noticing the JAZZ on my tee shirt tells the others, “Hey, that’s Jamey. He’s the one that does the no smoking program.” I told him he had good memory. He then said he saw the word JAZZ and knew it was me.
I’ve been doing these Jammin’ With Jamey Program at local schools for years. We setup a time with each school where they gather students for an assembly and we spend an hour or so playing some jazz and I talk to them about the dangers of smoking. Now, doing the programs takes a lot of effort to load the van, then unload the van at the school and set up. Do the programs and then load the van, drive home and the unload the van, etc. I’m certainly not complaining. It’s something I truly enjoy doing for the students.
This incident and many others with various kids over the years whom I run into – some who are now in their TWENTIES, recall our school visits. JAZZ AND NOT SMOKING go right together. It pays off. FREEDOM.
Each episode reminds me that they really listen and they REMEMBER what you have to say and share with them once you get their attention and trust. Also, me shooting 3 pointers, the band playing jazz while they are coming into the gym and getting seated sets the stage that something exciting and important is about to happen.
Music brings people together. Get them tapping their feet, clapping their hands and look out!
This type program should be duplicated all over the U.S.A.
We are always receiving comments from musicians around the world on how jazz has affected their lives. More specifically, we continue to learn how Jamey and his dedication to jazz education has reached the lives of musicians all over the world. In this case, we’ve discovered that you don’t have to be in a practice room to unlock the secrets of jazz improvisation. Check out this short story.
“I’ve been a student of yours for decades. Played mostly rock and roll until I became an actor. And now, at 70, I’m finally in a place, as an actor and writer, where I can study jazz for fun instead of having to make a living playing music. I’ll tell you a quick story.
I once met a guy who had taught himself to play jazz flute using your books, all by himself while serving on a nuclear submarine. When he got out of the Navy he could play like a monster but he’d never set foot on a stage. I had the privilege of standing beside him when he first played for an audience. He blew the joint away and was stunned by the applause. Last I heard he was touring with a big faith-based rock orchestra. Just thought you’d find it interesting that you were teaching jazz several hundred feet below the polar ice cap.”
Somehow, smiling while keeping his embouchure as he plays sax, Audley Reid is a sight to behold and a feast for the ears. The groove and funk spilling from his horn catches the audience in an acoustic vise.
He’s performed internationally including in his native Jamaica. A strong figure in the Chicago smooth jazz scene, he can easily slide from smooth to Caribbean to R&B or from Christian to straight-ahead. His CD titled “A Plays E” was ranked #3 by Smooth Jazz and More internet radio.
Audley worked in corporate America for over 26 years, with his first 10 years in banking and then the last 16 years in telecommunications. Of the Midwest jazz scene, he says, “We’ve seen more Neo-Soul come on the spot with a funky groove and a vibe. Some musicians are exploring, taking current R&B hits and turning them into a smooth jazz type of flavor because that’s what the audience understands. It helps to grow their fan base.” Straight-ahead is making a nice comeback, he adds.
While clarinet was his first instrument, in high school he began playing alto sax, which is now his primary instrument. Then, he picked up the tenor, lead soprano. “I have over the years started to play a few more instruments like English horn, bassoon and oboe.”
Comparisons have been made to David Sanborn’s sound. Although one of the first songs Audley learned was Sanborn’s “The Dream,” Audley concentrates on perfecting his own sound. “I just try to be me. One of the greatest things that you can do as a musician is to listen to other great performers who play your instrument and learn from them. Maintain your own sound in the music business whether you sing or play an instrument.”
Flexibility! Audley says it’s key to getting gigs and staying sharp, so he plays lots of smooth jazz, straight-ahead and R&B. “The ability to perform an R&B song with a smooth jazz spin has shown to be a winning combination. If you don’t adjust to your core market base you are doomed.”
His core group, a quartet, has been together over ten years. With Audley’s commentary added in, they include:
Will Howard – Bass player, songwriter, arranger, producer. Tremendous amount of skills laying down a solid groove and keeping the pocket.
SelfBlack – Keyboards/Organ. Stellar, Grammy-nominated keyboard player, writer-producer, also a very multi-talented musician playing several different instruments.
Derek Henderson – Drummer. We simply call him the fat timekeeper. Songwriter, producer, engineering and sound work.
“I hope audiences will come back again and again,” he says. “We try to perform music the audience can relate to and every now and then we’ll sneak in a musician’s song. It’s very important that your music connects with your audience and that they have a connection with you and the band.”
With his CD’s “Reid Seeds” and “A Plays E,” the tracks are meaningful and played with heart. His favorite songs include “On The Upside,” “Chill Session” and “So They Say.”
Back in February, 2017, Jamey was the subject of another fantastic article by the News and Tribune, a community publication in Jamey’s hometown of New Albany, Indiana. Written by Elizabeth Beilman with photo credit to Josh Hicks, the article focuses on a little bit of Jamey’s history to his continuation of jazz education today.
“The reason he still does it is simple — he just likes teaching.”
Check it out. The article also includes a link to a video of Jamey’s quartet performing.