Jamey Aebersold Jazz Camp 1996

By Derek Siebert

If there were two weeks out of the year local jazz fans circle on their calendars, one would be the University of Louisville Jazz Week held in late February. The other week would be the week long Jamey Aebersold Jazz Camp (June 30 - July 5) also held at the University of Louisville.

The Jamey Aebersold Jazz Camp has one main purpose: to get people improvising through music, primarily through jazz music. For those of you who do not know what a musical improvisation is, it is simply musical material that is created (not written out) on the spur of the moment. The camp stresses listening to recordings, learning music theory principles, and training the ear to "decode" melodies and harmonies. Through these various methods, the musician will become more comfortable improvising and will learn to unlock the melodies deep down inside of him or her.

The camp is open to all ages and to both sexes. The camp regularly attracts people as young as 12 and as old as 70+. Most importantly, the camp accepts everyone who applies, regardless of talent level, instrument, or proficiency on the instrument.

Cpnrad Herwig at the silo. Photo by Derek Siebert

The Jamey Aebersold Jazz Camp has been a regular event in Louisville for the past twenty years. The first two camps were held at Bellarmine College. Then the camp was moved to the University of Louisville Shelby Campus, remaining there until the new School of Music was built on the Belknap Campus in the early 1980s. Since its inception, attendance at the Louisville camp has risen steadily, with this year's camp peaking at around 300 students.

The Aebersold camp is recognized worldwide as being one of the most prestigious music camps a student can attend. Students this year alone have come from China, Thailand, Australia, Germany, and Denmark to study the art of improvisation.

The camp officially began on Sunday, when students registered and auditioned for their jazz combo spot and jazz theory class placement. The jazz combos usually consist of two or three horn players (sax, trumpet, etc.) and a complete rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitar). The camp normally has more horn players than rhythm section players. To accommodate everyone, extra horn players are grouped into what are called Record Combos. Here they "play-a-long" with a pre-recorded rhythm section. Record Combos are great for the novice improviser because the instruction tends to be more individualized. The rhythm section is basically "mistake-free".

The daily schedule for the rest of the week consists of a morning theory class (grouped into divisions of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced), a morning ear-training class, and a morning combo class. After lunch, the students attend a master class pertaining to their instrument and another combo session. Following dinner, there are three outstanding faculty concerts in the evening followed by a student jam session until midnight.

On Wednesdays, however, the evening concert, sponsored by the Louisville Jazz Society, is held at the Silo Brewery. At this year's Silo concert, people actually had to be turned away due to the enormous crowd on hand.

In addition to this, students also get the chance to play with a variety of faculty members and can attend other faculty lectures pertaining to jazz improvisation. On Friday, the last day of the camp, the students give an afternoon concert with their respective combo. It's truly wonderful to "hear" the improvement in everyone's playing.

Two reasons come to mind for the continued success of the camp, the first being the quality staff of teachers Aebersold has been able to employ every year and the second, Aebersold himself.

Even in the camp's early years, regular instructors at the camp included Joe Henderson, saxophone; Dave Liebman saxophone; Woody Shaw, trumpet; Slide Hampton, trombone; and Rufus Reid, bass. This year's faculty included artists such as Eric Alexander, saxophone; Bobby Shew, trumpet; Conrad Herwig, trombone; Andy Laverne, piano; and Todd Coolman, bass. Also on hand at the camp were jazz education giants David Baker, Indiana University, and Dan Haerle North Texas University. Jerry Coker, from the University of Tennessee, a well-known jazz educator who usually attends the camp was on sabbatical this year, completing yet another book.

Other faculty members of local interest included Dick Sisto, vibraphone; Mike Tracy, saxophone; Steve Crews, piano; Scott Henderson, guitar; Jerry Tolson, vocals; and Craig Wagner, guitar. The total number of faculty members this year exceeded fifty, making the student / teacher ratio an impressive 6:1 average.

Jamey Aebersold himself is the other reason for the camp's success. His countless articles, books, and jazz play-a-long records have made it much easier for today's aspiring musician to learn to improvise. He is easily the most well-known and well-respected jazz educator in the world and his summer programs reflect that.

If you would like more information about the Summer Jazz Workshops or like a free Jamey Aebersold catalog, call 1-800-456-1388.