In this historical study, I present the emergence and evolution of Jamey Aebersold’s Play-A-Long volumes and their key role in bringing jazz improvisation to formal music education. Drawing on oral histories and using a framework from sound studies, I present chord-scales and pattern playing as Deweyan conceptual technologies that assist beginners in developing a mature technique. I recount how Aebersold learned these as a student of David Baker at Indiana University, then applied the idea through teaching improvisation with the Dorian mode over Davis’s “So What.” In 1967 Aebersold published volume 1, and the Play-A-Long evolved into a system over a dozen years as subsequent volumes included new scale types, like the blues scale; added idiomatic patterns; incorporated his new Scale Syllabus; and licensed standard repertoire. I then describe how these technologies imply the “soloist as such”: a generic model of learning improvisation as a process of learning tunes and tasks from simple to complex around a core unity of theory and performance. This model in particular addressed beginning improvisation and the slogan “Anyone Can Improvise.” Finally, I consider criticisms of the model, note that the chord-scale approach is Black music theory, and suggest future research. Copyright © 2021 National Association for Music Education.
CitationThibeault, M. D. (2021). Aebersold’s mediated Play-A-Long pedagogy and the invention of the beginning jazz improvisation student. Journal of Research in Music Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/00224294211031894
- Jazz education
- Sound studies
- Oral history