Jamey Aebersold on The Mindful Musician Podcast
Hi, everybody, welcome to the Mindful Musician podcast. Thanks for listening. I'm going to keep the same format that I've been doing lately where we will get right to the interview because I want to give our focus to our very special guest. Next week I'll put out a mini episode where I'll do some more personal reflections and talk about things that I learned in this interview. So many of you know our special guest is Mr. Jamey Aebersold. And for all his biographical information and Website, you can check the show notes. I was fortunate enough to talk to him right after his 80th birthday and after his legendary summer jazz workshops concluded this year and they've been going on for over 40 years. He's an internationally known saxophonist and authority on jazz education and improvisation. Many of you know him from his jazz play along series where there's almost 130 volumes. And then there's a lot of other supplemental books and different resources for developing improvisational skills. So if you're like me, you've used those play alongs many, many times. Some of the awards and honors he's received are:
In 1989, the International Association of Jazz Educators inducted him into their Hall of Fame at the San Diego Convention. And he shares that distinction with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, among others. In 2007, he was awarded the Indiana Governor's Arts Award by Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana. In 2014. Jamey Aebersold was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award. That's the nation's highest honor in jazz. Also, in 2014, he received the A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy, which is given to an individual who has contributed significantly to the appreciation, knowledge, and advancement of the art form of jazz. As I said, his summer workshops are legendary. When I asked our community for questions for Mr. Jamey Aebersold most people just expressed to me that they wanted to pass on their gratitude to him for making their practice more effective, more fun, and more practical. I certainly share that sentiment. So with gratitude, I present Jamey Aebersold on the Mindful Musician podcast.
So, first is just general questions about jazz:
How do you define jazz? Is it based on music from a certain time period? Is it a certain way of playing together? How do you define it?
Well, I define jazz as being improvised music. There are lots of recordings of things that are in the jazz category, but in my opinion, aren't necessarily jazz. Jazz is when you improvise. For instance, long ago they had the stage band arrangements, stage bands in high school and so forth; maybe some places they still do. They would play the arrangements that were jazzy, but then nobody really ever improvised. So that's how I got the combo camps going. I worked at the big band camps and at the end of the week, only a couple of people got to stand up and take a solo and I thought that was kind of a shame. But anyway, I define jazz as improvised music. And of course, it uses spontaneity, uses imagination, your creativity, which often is not used a whole lot. If you looked at us historically, jazz started down in New Orleans. You know, like a hundred and fifteen or so years ago on crude instruments and it was actually kind of march type music for parades and things and then gradually evolved as it spread around the world, but primarily here in America. And it became our popular music. Some people call jazz our classical music. Yeah, but the improvisation and spontaneity are the two things that I think of first. But you can't have an organized solo that makes any sense unless you've got some diligent practice and listening behind it. A lot of people use the scales and the chords when they solo, but they don't necessarily swing with the rhythm section because they're playing it like a classical piece, so to speak.
That usually tells me they just haven't listened enough to recordings over and over and over and tried to emulate the feel and the actual sound. You know, they're making that sound like something that's written on a piece of paper. So, I guess that's a general outline of what I would call jazz. But the improvised part and using your imagination is the important part for me.
Yes. Yes. And then you mentioned the thing about like the rhythm. And so, are you talking about groove in general or the swing feel in general or just in general being able to lock in with a rhythm section?
I think in general, to be able to lock in with a rhythm section. You keep time.
And when you play your eight notes, which we play more 8th notes than anything, do they swing with the accompanying rhythm section?
Yes. Yes. So and you are already reference the history of jazz and I'm curious about that, too, because you know that jazz is so global now and I've heard you say that your play-a-longs at any given time, are being played by someone, somewhere around the world. Do you see anyone as owning jazz or the cultural kind of underpinnings for jazz came from and just say because it's often referred to as an African-American music. Who owns jazz and how does that cultural heritage play in?
I'm not sure. It’s a mix of cultures.
And I think an overarching word that would describe jazz is freedom. Of course, with freedom, in order to really know what freedom is, you have to have been enslaved, so to speak, or tied up at some point and now you know what it's like to be free. I think the freedom that people express from the very beginning in playing jazz, even if they only knew 10 songs and 6 of them were in the same key over and over. When they played, it was fresh and they probably were not playing exactly what they played the day before. I think that part right there was the beginning of the mysticism. The constant NEWNESS. Improvising all along, you know, how can they do that? They don't have any music stands and they don't have any music? And I can tell that that is not a memorized solo. So where is this coming from? Of course, it's coming from their mind. They wouldn't be doing that if they didn't have the facility to play certain scales and chords.
Yes. So, I see. So, you're talking about it like a language, like there's an agreed upon language that you break down so well in the play-a-longs into scales and chords and progressions but then there's this other intangible piece that's the freedom of expression and the individualism. So, I was going to ask, how do you teach that intangible, that mystical part? Where does that come from? You've been teaching for 50 years plus, What's the mystery behind that?
I think when I listen to people play like at our workshops, several weeks ago, I heard various people play and I can tell right off the bat if they're far enough along in their soloing and they're not just groping for the right notes, if they're actually kind of playing, I can tell if they've been listening to records or not because it's a tradition that’s oral and has been passed down. I can tell those who have listened a lot and I can tell those who have not really started listening. So it's a tradition and I don't think it would make any difference if the person were from the Philippines or France or Afghanistan or wherever they played their instruments for several years and I'd listen; that listening is going to creep into their playing and I'm going to detect it because I've listened a whole lot. If they haven't listened, then it's probably, in my opinion, not gonna sound very jazzy. It will sound pretty rudimentary, elementary, and probably will not swing.
And you're talking about listening to the classic kind of jazz records? What kind of listening is the most helpful?
Well, I think all of the eras. When I started out, I was listening to Duke Ellington and Kid Ory and Louis (Armstrong) and Dixieland stuff but I quickly kind of felt there was something else a little more modern, is the word I’d use today. So, I leaned towards Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and some others. Dizzy Gillespie, I couldn't understand because he used a lot of chromaticism. It swung but I could never hope to play like that. So, I put the emphasis over on people that I thought I could maybe emulate a little bit, even if they played another instrument like, say, JJ Johnson. You know, some of the West Coast players, Lenny Niehaus, the guy who played with Stan Kenton. I loved his playing on Cherokee and I played that over and over and over. And even today when I playCherokee I'm sure I will play two or three licks that I learned sixty years ago off of that record. I think the listening is extremely important. That's how I learned how to play and thousands of other people. Then I came along with the books and probably reduced their listening time because it put more on the page to look at with their eyes.
The books were supposed to speed things up, but they didn't necessarily do that.
Right, because written music can be used as a crutch?
That takes you out of that oral tradition of hearing and playing back. Do you find that there's new players that people are listening to and resonating with in that way and imitating? Or do most of the students you're working with, do they tend to refer back to that classic jazz time period?
Well, I'm sorry to say that most students I work with and have worked with haven't listened very much so if you ask them who their favorites are, they may say something like Maynard Ferguson, you know, a big band or someone or they might mention a Michael Brecker track that they like. But oftentimes I don't think their breadth of listening is very deep and they don't follow the famous players so they really don't know; They don't know who to listen to. That’s where I help them out by directing them to the masters.
We're so inundated with modern pop and digitized music. Is that what people are coming to the table with? What kind of foundation are you finding that people are coming with?
Well, I haven't really tracked that down, but that would be a great question. Well, actually, if I looked at the pages that people filled out at our camp, that would be five hundred and fifty people probably, and underneath the question, "Who do you listen to?" that would be a good one to check out who they're listening to. Some are right on the money. They're gonna put down Charlie Parker, Lee Morgan, J.J. Johnson, Wynton Kelly, etc. Others are gonna put down something like Kenny G. Or maybe other people that I've never heard of. So, there's a wide variation of the people that come into my camp and those are the ones that I have the most dealings with nowadays since I don't really give private lessons or teach at a college anymore. I think it's really vast and we just have to keep informing students to listen to the players that made this music what it is.
Yes, and I don't intend this to be a bleak question, but I'm curious with the jazz listening audience so small and people less exposed, how do you see the future of jazz and keeping it alive? It seems like people are flooding to your workshop and they're still interested. But how do you see the future of jazz in jazz education and sustaining that interest in that kind of freedom and improvisational music?
I think it rests with your band director at the college and the high school and middle school levels. What they show their students is what the students are probably going to listen to, especially if students respect the teacher. If the teacher plays his instrument and demonstrates things during the class, there's going to be more respect and they'll pay more attention to what he says. And when, for instance, he says, OK, today before we play anything, you can get your horns out, but I'm gonna play a Blue Note record by Hank Mobley called "This I Dig of you." It's got Wynton Kelly on the piano, Art Blakey on the drums, so-and-so on the bass. I want you to listen to several things. Listen to the sound of a saxophone, see if like the melody, listen to the bass and then listen to the way they play their solos. Are they using bits and pieces of scales? And then I would play that track and others for five or six weeks. If they do something like that, that helps to train them in what the band director thinks is important and they may follow him.
Yes, I can personally attest to that. That's what one of my teachers did early on, and it really made an impression. I mean, it got me hooked on all those Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis records.
And, you know, I'm sure you know this, but it doesn't take a whole lot of records. I mean, two or three and one kid catches on to Kind of Blue, another one catches on the Giant Steps, another one catches on to Wes Montgomery with Wynton Kelly or whatever. You know, all they need is one to kind off reign them in and then when they play their solo on the blues, or Maiden Voyage or Cantaloupe island, or Satin Doll or Perdido or whatever, the director encourages him in certain directions, tells him how to shape their solo, how to make the change from the first scale to the second scale - "let's try that again." And once they get to the point where they feel like they're actually creating something that's worth listening to for themselves, not only the band director and the other kids in the band, then they're probably hooked on this fantastic music. You know, this is something they're gonna pursue.
It sounds like it's sort of a mentor model of someone kind of saying, here's what it is and here's how you understand it.
Ok. So, to transition to the play alongs specifically - I find like there's another fascinating story of how the "play along" went from something that you created to be helpful for yourself from what I understand, from listening to other interviews with you, and then suddenly millions of people are using them. So how did how did it go from something for yourself to something for so many people for so long?
I think I just happened along with that idea and with the finances, which was probably about five, six hundred bucks to start with. I actually put it out and then promoted it gently, you know, in Downbeat with two sentences or something way back in the back there. And then I went out and did a lot of clinics. I took my record player and I took the LP with me and I demonstrated to people how you could practice the scales and build a solo. So, you have 20 people at the clinic - "Okay, let's go around the room we're going to hear everybody play eight bars." You know, kind of like cramming it down their throats. By the end of the session, and at the same time, I'm would have a box of jazz records, jazz LP's in the trunk of my car, which I would take in and sell for a dollar and a quarter. And I think that did as much good as anything else, because once you sell them something like a brand-new jazz LP, and I was basically giving them away at that low price. They listened to a lot of really great players and started their jazz record collection. Again, we're back to the listening portion, catching their ear and kind of catching their imagination. Like "what in the world are these people doing?" You know? "That's not a written solo. I don't think I could ever do that." But then a month later, it might be, "oh, I think I figured out what that first four bars was" because they got their first chance to transcribe a little bit of Freddie Hubbard. "That wasn't as hard as I thought it was."
But I say all along, if you get them kind of hooked just gently at first on the jazz sound, the recordings, they'regonna go ahead and grab the whole thing. And I don't think you ever have to worry about them doing drugs or this or that. Forget that dead-end because they're caught on music, jazz and using their imagination and playing their instruments.
Yes. So, you're showing them the product - the recording, but you're also showing them that they can improvise, showing them they have this ability that seems magical to them until you break it down.
Of course, of course. 00:18:27
A teacher is the one that guides the student to be the best they can possibly be and to reach their creative goals as quickly as possible.
Yes. So, you're saying the message is "do as the teacher does" and it's not about the worshipping of the teacher. It's doing the methodology that made them what they were?
Exactly. Exactly. I think that's why we've had so many people come to the jazz camps over and over because myself and others that I've hired as faculty are working to bring out each student’s creativity. That's exactly what we're doing. We talk about something. We demonstrate it. We say now you try it and then we'll coach you along the way, gently critiquing you. Now let's try it again. Try this. Now, when you go home, listen to this record. Come back next week and we'll dive in right where we left off.
Yes, so Then how did you go from one play-along to so many? What was the thinking that led to the growth of the play-alongs?
Well, that's an interesting story, which I'm sure you probably read. But actually, I think I may have even put the first record out. It may have been out. I said to myself, "I need to write a book." I kind of doubt that, but it may have happened that way. I just can't remember. Anyhow, before that, before we actually got it going, I realized I needed to put a book showing people how I use this record because they're going to be upset with me and the music store if they buy this because there's only piano, bass and drums and accompaniment. There was nobody soloing. So, I wrote the book. That was the hardest thing I ever did. Then I revised it many, many times as I've learned things. And I figured if Volume 1 is successful and if it helps people, then Berklee School of Music who at that time was publishing jazz materials would take it over., Well, they never did anything with the play-a-long idea. So, then I say, well, let's do one on the blues thinking that would be the end of it. Yeah, we did that. I think Dan Haerle said, well, why don't we do II V I(two-five-one)?. And I'm thinking, uh oh, wait a minute. And I'm thinking "who's going to want to practice with that in all twelve keys?" You know, that's not what I had in mind, although I realize it's one of my best ones and I've practice with it as much as I've practiced with any volume. So, we put it out (Vol.3 The II V7 I Progression) and all of a sudden we were into pedagogy. Number four, was supposed to be the last. Number four was me and Dan Haerle’s songs. And they were very difficult. And we even advertised it back then, "Only for the Brave." And there's a trumpet player, who's also a comedian…Jack Sheldon! That’s his name.
I'm not sure.
Anyway, he called me one day while I was eating lunch. "Hey Jamey, this is Jack Sheldon. "I see your downbeat ad here for Volume Four Only for the Brave. Do you think I can play on that one?" Of course, he could. But I suspect that the tunes were different than what he was used to playing because we didn't use standard-type chord progressions. So, we did that Volume 4 and we realized "Oops, those tunes are too hard for the average person." So, then we put out Volume Five Time to Play Music just to get back to basics. And then we're up to nine years later, 1976. And I go to New York and record with Ben Riley on drums, Kenny Barron, and Ron Carter and we do Charlie Parker songs. Then we come back home here and do Miles Davis, and then we do Sonny Rollins, then Woody Shaw, about that time, probably 78 or 79, Woody was doing some of my jazz camps with me. "Hey, Woody, let's do some of your tunes." Next thing you know, The Woody Shaw Quartet is in my basement with him playing the melody softly on track four. And that leads to my good friend David Baker, I was playing with him a lot at that time. We did his tunes and then we did Herbie Hancock and then Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Golson, and then we did Lee Konitz. But,I went to New York and recorded it and Lee was there with Ron Carter and, I'm drawing a blank. I think maybe Kenny Barron and I can't remember the drummer- oh, Grady Tate, But, that one sunk because Lee Konitz's wife at the time, objected to something. So, I had to go and write a bunch of contrafacts. You know what that is? A contrafact is a new melody over an old (progression). LikeGroovin' High and Whispering both use the same harmony.
I see, so same changes. Just a different melody because you can't get the rights to the original melody.
Yeah. How High the Moon chord progression is the same as the chords to Ornithology by Charlie Parker.
But Charlie Parker just wrote a new melody. Much more complicated than How High the Moon. But the harmonies are the same. So that's how they got started. And my add in Downbeat. This is an interesting thing. I had just a little ad in the classified section: Volume 1 six dollars including postage, LP and book. When volume 2 came out, I added it right below volume 1, but I sold more volume 1. When volume 3 came out, I sold more volume 1 and 2. So that's the way it worked for a little while. And for a long time, we had a full-page ad. I think that's what started it. There was a play-along Book/LP that Music Minus One had that actually started with Clark Terry and some of the other maybe NBC music people. Clark Terry was on one MMO that I'd heard. He would play a chorus and then you'd play a chorus and then he'd play another chorus and you'd play a chorus. Well, when I heard that, I said, "gee, that's a great rhythm section, but I don't need Clark Terry playing because I got all his records."
I said, what I need is just that background for five minutes on the blues, for instance. So that's kind of where I got the idea of cutting out the soloist and just making it background. That became very, very popular.
And were there actually soloists in the session off, you know, off mic for them to play with or did they play as if there was a soloist?
Sometimes, yes, I would play and we put it on another track or not record it at all. And then other times I remember I would go in the booth and sing along, scat the melody, and then do four or five, six choruses. But then after some of the guys got used to doing it, they didn't want to hear me scat and there was no need to take my alto. They got the hang of comping, which was another factor that people really don't talk about but the play-alongs have been an excellent example of how to comp for piano players or guitar players.
I think you had books that had all the comping transcribed in some cases, is that right?
Oh yeah. We've got four or five or six of those. I remember the first one was my Volume One. A fella in Louisville, David Leonhart, he transcribed it. It took him about a year. And I think about two weeks ago I ran across his original manuscript here in my room, but I remember him handing me the manuscript of all the tracks of my copying and saying "Jamey, I don't want to ever hear you comp again."
Those are so valuable to me because comping was the most mysterious thing on the recordings because it was so hard to hear all the notes. To see them all on the page was so clarifying. I think I did the Maiden Voyage one, and I think some other Herbie Hancock songs.
There was a fellow in California, I think he might have had perfect pitch that transcribed several of them, like maybe the Volume 54 Maiden Voyage. And Volume 70 Killer Joe that I am on. And he may have done some other ones, too.
Wow, Amazing work.
For piano players who don't know how to play without having that root in the left hand - my voicings on these and other people’s voicings written out in bass and treble clef have been extremely popular and helpful.
Yes, I certainly found them helpful. And on the business side, were there any challenges or snags in terms of copyright or like packaging or distribution that you had to learn because you were kind of like a record company too?
Oh yeah. Well, I had to pay copyright on the printed songs. I still do twice a year on songs that other people wrote like George Gershwin and Cole Porter and so forth. Those are controlled by maybe Hal Leonard or Alfred or other companies and every six months I count up what we sold and pay them a royalty. Oh, way back there when we got the volume six and seven and eight with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins tunes.
I consulted with some lawyers and if you don't record the melody, you don't pay a royalty because chord progressions are not copyrightable.
And that has stayed the same through the years because the next argument is, well, if they are, who gets a royalty for the blues?
You know, so we've passed around the various II V I's (two-five-ones.) And cycles and sequences that have become so popular in American popular music over the last hundred years that there's no way you could define things. I mean, there's things like Giant Steps by John Coltrane. That seems to be fairly unique but if you look at it carefully, it seems like it kind of came from that bridge to Have You Met Miss Jones? It's a give and take in the harmony world and the melody world. But back to your question about people using them and so forth and how did they get started? I think they got started little by little. And then, that's how a lot of people learned how to play. I still have people today that come up to me and or they write and they say, "Jamey, I've got your volume three back in 1972 and that's the best thing I ever did. I had no idea what was going on and that clarified a lot of things. Then I went and listened to records. I can hear those same sequences happening. And I felt like I was making some progress."
Yes. So, speaking of getting them to more people - Some of these questions came from the community. This one I remember who it came from, this is from Nick, who is the trombone player for the Carole King Broadway show. He asked "The streaming model is very popular right now. What do you think of it? And would you consider making your playa-long tracks available on streaming platforms?"
Well, actually, we already have it, but we haven't advertised it to the public yet. We've been working with the jazz camps and other things this year. And now we're through our jazz camps - we're two weeks past it. It's just about time to do it. (Also, we are launching Aebersold E books and audio! We already have some available on line. Added 8-28-19.)
We've got about, I'm going to guess and say 1300 tracks, 1400 tracks, you know, everything. You can buy them now for 79 cents. And we're also right now, as we speak, we're working on e-books for all the titles that we own. And the next thing would be to come to an agreement with the copyright holders for the standards. You know, like Summertime and There Will Never Be Another You, etc. And then clarify that. And then we would probably have all the eBooks, all the play-alongs, and all those supplementary books that we publish, which are probably, I don't know, 50, 60, 70, 80 books, you know, basslines, piano voicings, this, that, and the stuff that we publish and put all that online.
And I suspect that it would be a big, big help for people who want learn to play music.
Yeah, that's unbelievable the amount of people that will then be able to access it and the new generation of iPads, phones, etc.
A new generation, that's for sure.
Yes. So just one just one more question about the recordings: You've work with so many legendary jazz musicians and have played on these play-alongs. Is there something that in common with them that makes them particularly great at improvising?
I would say enthusiasm, number one. Enthusiasm for spreading the word about jazz education, because when I started way back in 1967, jazz education was just getting started. And this whole idea, like my Volume 1, on the very first book, I didn't even have transposed parts. I just had everything in C, I had the chord progression to All the Things You Are in C, but I couldn't write all of it out because they wouldn't give me the copyright - wouldn't give me permission. So, I wrote the introduction of eight measures to All the Things You Are. And then I couldn't even write out the changes. Then finally I wrote the changes, and finally I just dropped the track altogether. But I was going to say, enthusiasm by the people that were making these play-alongs, because I think they realized, especially for the first 10 years or so, that they were becoming part of jazz educational history. By the time we got to 10 years later, I was probably writing the scales out for everybody. And there were some jazz professionals who felt like, "Jamey, that's not the thing to do. They're supposed to learn this by ear." And by that time, I was already using at my camps an overhead projector and screen and putting transparencies up of the songs that the people were playing on. I can still remember one and one piano player saying "Jamey, I wish you wouldn’t do that. What are you talking about? Oh, putting that screen up - it's very distracting." I said, "well, look, if it's distracting to you then you just play and shut your eyes.
Okay, because I'm leaving it up on the screen for all those people that have no idea what's going on. I think speaking about and answering your question about the legendary musicians that are on the play-along with their creativity and their professionalism plays into it. It's like they didn't get up and play like, "oh, man, this is just an old educational track for five minutes. I'll just play the same line on the bass over and over and over and over. None of that ever occurred." Or I think I probably would have spoken up and said, "pardon me, are we all awake? You know, you have you cashed that check yet?" I think also these people that I hired, they all knew something about the history of jazz and they'd all grown up listening so they could realize while they were doing this how valuable this was going to be. Just think, they're making a record in New York City or they are in Jamey's basement. And within five or six months, maybe less, this LP will be in Afghanistan. It'll be in Singapore, Hong Kong or who knows where. And the booklet will be copied on that early copy paper. I forget what they call it. It's kind of purple like stuff. And this book is going to be copied all around the world and passed around for people that can't actually buy it. Of course, nowadays it's just once one copy is out there and somebody puts it out, and scans it and puts it on(line) it's free for everybody. Yeah, and I don't approve of that. That's terrible.
Yeah. The books and so much of music has changed because of the MP3 being able to be copied like that as well.
But I think that's where our senators and representatives have really not taking care of business, because I think it was 19--, excuse me, it was 2012. They had a bill about copyright. I couldn't wait for them to get in session, but Wikipedia and some other big sites shut down for the day in protest as though to say, "how dare you, senators, trying to stop us from giving Jamey's stuff away." That was the end of that. Nobody said anything, it has been seven years. They've ruined my business and not only mine, but hundreds of other people to.
So, what are musicians to do these days? You know, our main product in the past of intellectual property and recordings and books are losing their value, people won't pay for them. What should the next generations of jazz musician, do, given they're in a totally different financial atmosphere? How can we prepare for that and deal with that and have the music thrive when it's so hard to be compensated for it?
I think they should do what their parents told them to do: "don't steal." Yeah, I mean, that's the simple answer. Don't steal. But of course, in today's political climate with, pardon my French, the worst president in my memory, lying, stealing and cheating is part of the normal thing and it's going to take even longer to dig out. If music, publishing, audio and print ever digs out of this - I don't know.
It seems very hard to undo once it's been done. So yeah. I hope there is some way to do that. On Mindful mediation podcast we often talk about personal growth practices and spiritual practices of the people we interview. And in your bio, it says you're very much interested in metaphysics and spiritual pursuits as they apply to the growth of the individual. I was going to ask you if you could say something about that and what that means.
Well, I. I think I was about 5 years old. A neighbor took me and my two brothers to a Methodist church here in New Albany, Indiana. And then after several months, I think my mom and dad started going to that church. They owned a florist shop and were open on Sundays. So, my dad closed up the shop on Sundays and we all went to church. So, we kind of grew up in the Methodist church. Once I got married back in 1961 and started checking out metaphysical things - Edgar Cayce, Paramahansa Yogananda, Unity with Charles Fillmore. It was a different way to think. It was still what I would call, what would you call it? I was going to say Christianity, I'm not sure that's right. Spirituality, I guess. Where the emphasis was on doing right as opposed to doing wrong and ending up in hell. So, for a long time I had heaven and hell in my mind. And then finally I gradually erased both of them. And I think today I'm celebrating my 80th birthday a week ago Sunday. So, today, I'm thinking more of how about what goes on today with Jamey Aebersold. So that what I'm responsible for, the past is over, and the future is not here yet. What can I do today to enhance planet Earth? So that's sort of the way I think. I still go to a discussion group over at UNITY of Louisville, which is just about 10,15 minutes from my house in Indiana. There is a very good speaker/leader. It's a discussion group. Gerry Boylan leads and he's been through a lot of things in his life, a lot of drugs, a lot of addictions.
And he was raised Catholic. So, there was a lot of boundaries that he had to cross. But he's an excellent teacher and I look forward to going over and being inspired by him each week. And I think this sort of rolls over into the music because jazz is truth. It's also freedom. But boy, you can't shuck and jive. You know what that means? Well, when you're shucking and jiving is when you're trying to fool other people into thinking that what you're doing is the real thing. You can't shuck and jive when you're playing jazz. You are keeping your place, you're playing with a good sound, and you're following the harmony, and you're also playing what you hear in your mind or you're not. And when you're not then what are you playing? "Oh, I'm playing gibberish." What does that mean? "I'm just letting my fingers go loose. I'm playing high, I'm playing loud, I'm playing a lot of notes." And pardon me, sir or madam, why are you doing that? "Well, it's jazz and I've heard people do it on the radio." I said, "well, show me the example and let me check it out." So, of course, when I listen, I say, "ok, could you hear that that's the E minor scale there? Going to an A seventh? Right there. Hear that note? That's a sharp nine. That's there on purpose because that person is hearing in their mind. What you're playing you're not even hearing in your mind. So, what you're actually playing is not yours because you couldn't begin to repeat it.
Yes. So, there's a unity of expression and sincerity of expression.
It's like, well, Art Blakey said it best. I think he said it to a tenor saxophone player. He said something like, let me see if I get this right. "Play what's there. People don't want to hear you lying'." I read that once and I said, oh, boy, that sure applies to all of us at some stage in our lives, you know, "play what’s there, don't people don't want to hear you lying'." And that's what good solos are, truth. And that's what the musicians are thinking and playing at that moment.
You come back 10 minutes later and ask him to play the same tune to take the same solo, take another solo over the same harmony and it's going to be completely different. That's the neat thing about it. What's the word they use? It's ever-new. Like every instance is new. In Metaphysics it’s called Bliss.
Yes. Yeah, beautiful. Yeah. So, there's a sincerity to it and there's a presence to it. There's a connection in the present moment where it's sincere yet it's always changing and always new.
You had one question here, if I could just bring it up, it said:
How do you see the relationship between composing and improvisation? OK, I see that as being the same. Because you're composing when you're improvising. And if you sit down and write a tune, you should be, and usually are taking what you're hearing in your mind. Putting the harmony to it, putting a melody to it, putting some rhythm with it. And you're deciding what the bass player should play, what the drummers should play and what the piano or the guitar should play behind the melody. Of course, once the melody is stated, then you're improvising across the harmony that you designed yourself. But I feel like composing and improvising is - when people are improvising, they are composing and when people are composing, they are improvising.
And what about the aspect of composing that you're cultivating something like you're changing it, you go back to it. It happens more over time instead of in the moment?
Are you thinking now of composing where you are writing the stuff down on paper?
Oh, yeah. Yes.
Ok. The paper stuff. Yes. Things can definitely get changed. I hear a great melody or harmony or something or phrase. Soon as we end this conversation, I go over to the piano, I get my paper out, write it down, play it on the piano. I come back later tonight and it may be completely new to me. And I say, oh, wow. Now that should go this way and this - in other words, my composing is changing because I hear it differently than I heard it when we were talking on the phone. Nowadays when I write a tune, I usually sit down and just kind of write it and within 10, 15 minutes, I probably have it written out. But I've been doing this a long time too.
So, it really is an extension of improvising. It's almost instant in the how it comes out.
Yes, it's definitely an extension of improvising. Yes. I'll tell you one other thing - I can't overstate how important the piano is in composing and improvising and theory and understanding harmony and just having fun playing music and being excited about the next time I get to play with a rhythm section is without mentioning the importance of the piano. The piano, I started when I was five years old. I took lessons every week for five years and at age 10, I went to the lesson. She stopped me as I started to play, and she said, "Here, here's your money back. You go on home. You'll never be a musician. You don't want to practice." And I avoided piano then for probably a year because I was afraid if I expressed interest in it, my parents would have me back practicing every day on it, you know, but the piano is the master instrument for me in everything that I do.
Yes. So the piano is like the whole the whole ensemble in a way...
Yeah, as a pianist, I can totally relate to that. The last thing I wanted to ask is kind of a silly thing but we all know your count-offs so well. We've heard them hundreds of times, if not thousands. Would you mind giving us one of your famous medium-tempo count-offs?
I'd love to. Are you ready?
One, two, One, two, three, four ----
That's great. Thank you. When I asked the community for questions, there were just such an outpouring of gratitude for everyone saying they wore out your play-alongs and the books and it demystified, something that was very mysterious and exciting and it really aided to all of our journeys. So, I just want to pass that on more than anything. Thank you for supporting so many of us in our journey of learning music and jazz.
Delighted to do it. I tell you.
Find more about Jamey Aebersold at:
Website featuring Books and Bio: http://www.jazzbooks.com
NEA Jazz Masters page:https://www.arts.gov/honors/jazz/jamey-aebersold
Find more about The Mindful Musician Podcast at: