By Lucy M. Pritchett
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.
What was 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. In high school some friends and I put together a little band called The Nitehawks. We played at sock hops and what we called the animal clubs: the Moose, the Elks, the Lions.
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 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. If I don’t know something I’ll send them to someone who would know.
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 Louis Armstrong played. Listening to records of others is extremely important. It’s a process and a challenge. 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.
Besides your successful career, what is an 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.
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.
Read more about Jamey Aebersold here.