Acclaimed jazz artist leads saxophone summit at YSU: Video, Photo

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Jamey Aebersold gladly gave a small reward to a student who came up with the name of a jazz tune he played that was based merely on several bars of complex chord structures.

Nevertheless, his bigger focus is on making budding musicians’ experiences invaluable.

“How did you know that was ‘Groovin’ High?”Aerbersold asked the student who correctly guessed the name of the 1945 influential bebop composition by famed trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. “Here, have a quarter.”

You could say that about 60 students were learning to polish a variety of techniques to get themselves in a greater musical groove during a clinic and master class Aebersold conducted that was a major part of Saturday’s Jazz Day and Saxophone Summit 2020 in Youngstown State University’s Bliss Hall.

Aebersold, 80, was the guest artist and clinician for the all-day gathering, which was part of the Dana School of Music Concert Series.

Aebersold is an internationally acclaimed jazz authority, saxophonist, author and educator with a main focus on helping young players develop and refine their improvisational skills. Many of his workshops, clinics and lectures concentrate largely on demonstrating how people can further tap into their creativity and spontaneity, both of which are key elements of jazz.

The longtime musician graduated in 1962 from Indiana University with a master’s degree in saxophone. In 1992, he earned an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from the university.

In addition, the International Association of Jazz Educators inducted Aebersold into its Hall of Fame in 1989 in San Diego. He joined the likes of legendary jazz musicians Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong.

During his 90-minute clinic for the Jazz Day event, Aebersold dissected some core harmonic and melodic devices common in jazz, such as the pentatonic scale and the dominant seventh chord, which, in part, is formed by two notes that have an interval of seven letter names between them, including A and G. A pentatonic scale is one with five notes per octave.

He also discussed certain improvisational techniques used by jazz pianists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, as well as tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

“It’s a pretty melody, and people love to hear it,” Aebersold said after playing the melody to the Brazilian bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema,” made popular by jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and singer Diana Krall.

Often using humor and self-deprecation, Aebersold challenged the students to focus on what he was playing, which included a 12-bar blues piece. He asked them to clap their hands when he transitioned from one measure to the next.

“Raise your hand when you think you know what’s going on,” Aebersold said at one point when he played a recording that featured a piano, bass and drums and asked his audience to describe the chord structures.

Also during the clinic, Aebersold joined a group of Dana students who played a blues composition by Clifford Brown, a jazz bebop trumpeter who made a series of recordings between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s before he was killed in June 1956 in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at age 25. On several occasions during the performance, Aebersold stopped the musicians to give them tips, including creative phrasing and tonal variations, on playing solos and improvising.

“Take listeners’ ears on a journey from the first note to the last note,” he advised.

“He is passionate about people learning about improvisation,” Dr. James Umble, a YSU professor of saxophone and event host, said about Aebersold.

Umble noted that Aebersold has about 130 volumes of book and compact-disc sets he invented called Jazz Play-a-Longs, which allow musicians to play melodies over rhythm section patterns on the recordings. They also challenge players to improvise on various chord changes, Umble explained.

When summing up his take on Aebersold’s ability to share his talents and contributions with students, however, Umble left little room for improvisation.

“He is at the top of the heap,” the professor said.

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