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'Jazz is not a lost art.' | Award-winning artist Jamey Aebersold shares his journey of learning jazz

Jamey Aebersold calls his New Albany music store, filled with thousands of vinyl albums and photos, "the Smithsonian Jazz Institute of the Midwest."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tucked away on the corner of a street in New Albany is Jamey Aebersold's jazz music store, home to thousands of vinyl albums and photos. 

He calls it, "the Smithsonian Jazz Institute of the Midwest." 

Aebersold has been playing music for most of his life, having been introduced to the artform at a young age.

"When I was young, I got my driver's license at 16," he said. "I got me a $35 car. I drove to Louisville, in the West End, where jazz was playing."

Aebersold said that rock-n-roll hadn't been invented yet and country western music wasn't popular at the time, so "jazz was basically everywhere."

He never liked to stick to the traditional format. Aebersold said his dad liked Dixieland music, so he bought some records, but it didn't really stick.

“I liked it, but then when I heard Miles Davis, Charlie Parker," he said. "I kinda went that way."

Credit: Sherlene Shanklin

Years later, Aebersold would realize that in order to play the tunes he hummed in his head, he would need to learn the foundations of scales, chords and fingering. "That's how I got started," he said.

Aebersold tried taking lessons from a private teacher, but he didn't have the patience to play standard scales and chords. He said he wasn't a good student, so the teacher actually returned his money.

In his mind, he was just copying what he saw in the music books. But Aebersold wanted to play what was in his head. He wanted to improvise.

Later in life, he would receive formal training at Indiana University. 

"They didn't have saxophone, but they put me on the woodwind degree," he said. "So, I had to take lessons in oboe, the flute, the bassoon, clarinet."

Aebersold said that he didn't get to take saxophone lessons until his sophomore year at IU from a graduate student.

He said he received a standing ovation for giving the first jazz recital at IU, which "was a big deal back then, 1960-61."

Credit: Sherlene Shanklin

After his graduation from IU, Aebersold went on to perform across the globe and earned many awards including being a recipient of the Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor given to jazz musicians in the U.S.

He's also received the Indiana Governor's Arts Award from former Governor Mitch Daniels and has a table full of awards. He even has a letter from former U.S. President Barack Obama.

But, despite all his many accomplishments and accolades, Aebersold remains humble, sharing his knowledge and wisdom with the next generation of musicians. 

Aebersold said that jazz is not a lost art since people use their imagination and their creativity when they play jazz. "That's not going to stop," he said.

“Too many don’t even try because they feel like they are not good enough,” he said, adding that anyone can improvise. 

Aebersold isn't concerned about his legacy either, he said there's still so much to do now.

"There's too much to do now to worry about the future," Aebersold said. Instead, he said he hopes more people would be kinder to others.

Aebersold can now be found teaching in college classrooms across Kentuckiana including IU, Bellarmine and the University of Louisville. He also has his own website where he offers lessons and sheet music, to learn more click here.

►Contact WHAS11’s Sherlene Shanklin at sshanklin@whas11.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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