By Frances Clause
“Take listeners’ ears on a journey from the first note to the last note,” Jamey Aebersold, world-renowned jazz performer, said as he gave Dana School of Music students advice on musical phrasing, improvisation and playing solos.
Aebersold was the guest artist of YSU Jazz Day and Saxophone Summit at Bliss Hall, where his clinic and master class were the highlights of Saturday’s nine-hour event.
Aebersold graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in saxophone in 1962 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the same university in 1992. His summer jazz workshops, instructional books and “Jazz Play-A-Long” series continue to teach students from around the world.
“Each time we have new clinicians come to YSU’s Dana School of Music, we get the chance to gain outside insight that we wouldn’t get had these clinicians not been able to visit,” Billy McKinney, senior music education and member of Dana’s saxophone studio, said.
McKinney said as a future teacher, events like this are important because it gives him and other music majors a chance to take in new perspectives of music.
“I really learned that there is more to jazz than just playing a ton of notes in a solo,” he said. “Jamey made sure that when we play solos in jazz music that each note is carefully picked to make musical sense.”
“Jazz solos are supposed to showcase our playing abilities, sure, but they are also supposed to showcase our musical thinking when it comes to phrasing,” he added, reflecting on what Aebersold demonstrated. “Essentially, the solo must sound as musical as it is virtuosic.”
Aebersold dissected harmonic and melodic devices common in jazz, discussed improvisational techniques and challenged audience members on their music knowledge through demonstrations on saxophone and piano.
Kent Engelhardt, professor of jazz studies, said the center of Aebersold’s teaching is the idea that all musicians can improvise.
“Whether or not that means you become a great jazz player, a great blues player, a great rock-and-roll player or a great country player, [Aebersold] opens improvisation up in such a logical way to people,” he said.
Engelhardt said he was fortunate to attend two of Aebersold’s jazz camps when he was young, and it set him on the path to what he does now.
“This event shows incoming students that we’re serious about the study of jazz, and it’s also an opportunity for them to get to hear some of our really terrific student musicians and faculty play,” he said.
Aebersold joined Dana students in playing a blues composition by Clifford Brown, a jazz bebop trumpeter, during his clinic. He was later joined by Dana faculty who closed the event with the sounds of their ensemble.
“Getting to play with him after all these years was so cool,” Engelhardt said. “It’s almost as if the years melt away from him when he plays, and he seems forever young.”
Engelhardt said if there’s one thing he hopes students took away from the event, it’s that the positive energy among the ensembles at Dana is growing.
“The students have become a community,” he said. “That sense of community is really important, and that’s not always easy to find.”