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A Jazz Instructor Supreme

Jamey Aebersold is responsible for all those fantastic play-a-longs, those books with exercises and scales and arpeggios. He is also a very accomplished and respected sax player and educator.

Having just finished two back-to-back weeks running his annual Summer Jazz Workshops in Louisville, KY, Jamey was happy to report over 500 lucky instrumentalists came from all over the globe to participate.

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

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

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 – 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?

Volume 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 the voice count off and I hate it when the drummer clicks his sticks together for the count-off, like on some other play-a-longs!

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?


By Debbie Burke

Debbie Burke is the author of The Poconos in B Flat and the upcoming Glissando: A Story of Love, Lust and Jazz (Waldorf Publishing, February 2018). She lives in northeastern Pennsylvania.

6 replies on “A Jazz Instructor Supreme”

What a great series of Q & A. Jamey is certainly a very special person. We’re developing an exhibition on him here at our museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Play Alongs. It will open here at the Carnegie Center for Art & History in Jamey’s hometown of New Albany, IN. The title of the exhibit is Jamey Aebersold: An Improvised Life. Please come!

Nice article on Mr. Aebersold and very well deserved! I have always been very grateful for his influence. His contribution to jazz education and it’s quintessential element of improvisation is immeasurable.

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