Jamey Aebersold: An Improvised Life
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Jamey Aebersold’s first volume in his now legendary “Play-A-Long” series, an accomplishment that joins an outstanding list of lifetime achievements, including his recognition as a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master in 2014. To honor Jamey Aebersold’s remarkable journey and accomplishments as a musician, educator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, the Carnegie Center celebrates a southern Indiana original with this retrospective exhibition.
Aebersold is best known for his “Play-A-Longs” which he created in 1967 with the original title, “A New Approach to Jazz Improvisation.” This method of teaching jazz originally included an album and a workbook and was popular with both beginners and professional musicians. The “Play-A-Longs” have grown to 133 volumes and supplemental books and CDs that Aebersold has successfully marketed globally. Selling more than 5 million “Play-A-Longs” worldwide created a 50 year career in music education and publishing, which provided the means for Aebersold to support social issues of personal concern.
Born, raised, and currently residing on Aebersold Drive in New Albany, Indiana, Aebersold’s humble beginnings consisted of music lessons, pickup basketball games in the driveway, and working at his grandparents’ floral shop. To Aebersold’s credit, as his reputation grew, his character remained constant. The man who built his business empire on the mantra, “Anyone can improvise” lives out his words in all facets of his life, fusing his passions for music, basketball, his compassion for the incarcerated, and his fervent dedication to anti-smoking campaigns.
Jamey Aebersold is a great advocate for art education and regularly supports schools from the elementary level to universities where he frequently conducts well-attended jazz workshops. Aebersold is also known as a basketball phenomenon and once hit 53 free throws in a row at over 70 years of age – which is a testament to the musical virtues of practice and repetition. Not as publicly known is Aebersold’s interest in the imprisoned where he has provided musical instruments and other help as well. Of all his passions, Aebersold is deeply involved in his anti-smoking campaigns.
Aebersold became an anti-smoking advocate after losing so many musician friends to illness due to working in smoke-filled music clubs. Aebersold has said, “The bottom line, was this: tobacco was killing people long before they should die.” His advocacy spills over into the transitions from song to song during performances – so much so, that his tactics have left a mark in the memories of his listeners. In one of many letters in a heaping pile of fan mail, for instance, one little boy wrote, “Our grandparents have said nothing but good about you, and described you as a man who is very laid-back, generous, and in the habit of carrying a lung around in a jar.”
Aebersold has archived hundreds of these letters that contain inspirational, confounding and even comical events speckled throughout Jamey’s life and the lives he’s touched. The exhibition edifies the viewers using excerpts from these letters and videos starring some of the biggest names in jazz – Jonathan Wolff, creator of the theme music from Seinfeld, for instance – who tell their favorite Aebersold story.
Accompanying programs include talks, concerts, and workshops where the public will have ample opportunities to interact with Jamey Aebersold.