- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - In the basement of a ranch home in New Albany is the heart of an international operation.

In this basement, shelves and shelves are stacked with music books that are shipped to eager students every day. You might find the mastermind behind it all in the next room, a studio cramped by a Steinway piano and the 15,000 records that line its walls.

Though he is now 77, world-famous jazz musician and 2014 National Endowment for the Arts award-winner Jamey Aebersold still keeps himself busy.

He heads his jazz book company full-time, plays with his quartet and speaks to students. And of course, he still teaches at his famous summer jazz camp at the University of Louisville, now entering its 53rd year.

He doesn’t plan on stopping.

“I’ve been looking at tombstones,” laughed Aebersold, a New Albany native. “I think I’m going to just keep going until I drop, I guess.”

Aebersold doesn’t lack gusto. Jazz is just one of his passions.

He’s known to hand out anti-smoking brochures to any unsuspecting stranger with a cigarette between their lips. When the weather’s good, he tries to break his most recent record of 53 three-pointers in a row at local basketball courts.

Photos he’s snapped the last 30 years of musicians line every spare inch of his studio’s walls. When he ran out of wall space, he began hanging them from the ceiling. It’s easy to see it’s the space of a creative soul.

For the past year, the Jamey Aebersold Quartet has been playing regularly at River City Winery for the past year. They recently gave free performances in New Albany and Jeffersonville.

Last week’s show was standing-room-only, though Aebersold said that’s rare.

“I think a lot of people are intrigued when they see somebody stand up and play without music in front of them,” Aebersold said.

He plays at local schools, too - and didn’t stop when they could no longer pay him.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “If I don’t do it, they’re not going to hear jazz at all.”

Though he was classically trained in saxophone, Aebersold played jazz on the side while a student at Indiana University. The school didn’t offer jazz saxophone at the time. He was the first IU student to play jazz during his senior recital.

“I got into jazz because as a teenage . I read a sentence in a magazine that said ‘jazz is the coming thing.’ So that would be like, 1950,” he said. “And I said, ‘well if it’s the coming thing, I better get down to the record store and find out what’s going on. So I guess I went in and said ‘I’d like to buy some jazz.’”

After he graduated IU, he moved back to New Albany and worked at Aebersold Florist while teaching music part-time.

His break came with his first Play-A-long book, which revolutionized the way Americans learn to play jazz.

The concept is simple - recordings feature rhythm instruments but omit the melody. Students pop in the CD, grab their instrument, and improvise along with the band. The book gives the basics, such as key and chords.

It all started when a student at one of the big band camps in the mid 1960s asked him to record himself playing, but to leave a space for the student to improvise.

Instead, Aebersold released the first volume of his play-a-long.

“Had he not asked me to do that, I may not have done the next step of getting musicians together, paying them,” he said. “Actually, we went to a music store in Bloomington, Indiana because they had a grand piano, and the guy set up his mics and went from there. Had to stop once or twice when a train went by.”

That was in 1967. He has since released 132 more volumes.

“Nobody had anything to play with,” Aebersold said. “Everyone was just learning how to play jazz just by themselves, or they’d put on a Miles Davis record or something and just sort of play along with it, with no guidance.”

His summer camps adopted a similar principle.

“Once people had the opportunity to go to a summer camp and learn how to improvise and you can get some individual attention, that’s where I want to go,” Aebersold said.

Class sizes aren’t as big as they used to be, but people still come from all over the world to learn how to play jazz in Aebersold’s camps.

The reason he still does it is simple - he just likes teaching.

“I think when I was a kid, when i was a real young kid, I was going to be a preacher,” he said. “… I don’t know if anybody knew it or not, but I remember coming into Sunday School one morning down in the basement and I saw the Rev. Keith … and I can still remember telling him, ‘Rev. Keith?’ ‘Yeah, Jamey, what’s up?’ ‘I’m not going to be a minister.’

“What I’m doing is ministering in a completely different way,” Aebersold said.

___

Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2jU6jrR

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