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Elementary Jazz 101

Isaac Brown, an 11-year-old sixth grader at New Middletown Grade School, speaks honestly about jazz. He says he’s “not a jazz freak. I’m not the the kind of person who listens to it 7-24-365,” but he does listen to it every once in a while, and he likes it.
Isaac was favorably impressed when New Albany and Louisville jazz legend Jamey Aebersold and four other professional musicians came to his school Thursday morning for a live concert and demonstration. One hundred and forty-five youngsters, from grades one through six were there, packed into music teacher Glenn Thienel’s room.
Aebersold played the alto sax. Pat Harbison played the trumpet, Steve Crews was on piano, Tyrone Wheeler played bass, and Jonathan Higgins was the drummer.
New Albany native Aebersold is 62; he’s taught at several colleges and universities and has been giving school concerts for 40 years. A nationally-recognized saxophonist and an expert on jazz education and improvisation, Aebersold is a member of the International Jazz Educators Hall of Fame in San Diego. He’s produced many videotapes, casettes, C.D.’s, books and recording sets, and he’s directed Summer Jazz Workshops all over the world for 30 years.
Issac said he enjoyed their music. The group started off with an amusing version of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm,” which everyone recognized, and then went to other numbers, like “Now’s The Time” by the great Charlie Parker, an original number by Aebersold, and a Latin American number in which several students were invited to come forward and play instruments like tambourines, bells and other nifty noisemakers.
Isaac said he thought Aebersold did a good job explaining jazz to the “little kids” in the audience, and he thought it was a good idea that Aebersold held up a green light bulb whenever the musicians started improvising, or playing creatively on their own, but backed up by the group. It seemed effortless and not noticeable. Isaac said improvisation showed how well the musicians cooperate when they play. Aebersold said it takes a lot of practice.
Improvisation was not entirely new to the youngsters. Thienel had prepared them for musicians’ appearance, explaining what jazz is all about, and how improvisation is an intriguing, big part of jazz. Thienel, who had seen an atrticle on Aebersold in The (Louisville) Courier-Journal newspaper, arranged for the musicians’ visit through the Arts Council of Southern Indiana. Aebersold and his friends have also made several appearances in the Lanesville schools.