Sometime around 1967, saxophonist and jazz educator, Jamey Aebersold, came up with the brilliant idea of putting out records with well known jazz tunes for aspiring musicians to jam along with. These records would only provide the rhythm section, (often played by well known musicians), while the student would play the melody of the tune, and then improvise over the changes. It was like having a night club full of top notch musicians in your home to help you learn how to solo. Early records featured songs and styles by the expected suspects such as bebop with Charlie Parker and hard bop with Miles Davis. By the time the late 70s rolled around, a record featuring Herbie Hancock tunes started getting into more abstract post bop territory with tracks like “Eye of the Hurricane". By the time we get to 1979, there is a bit of a surprise when the slightly lesser known Dave Liebman was given a record that featured his post bop creations, and probably the first play along session featuring a no-chord-progression free jazz workout with the tune “Lookout Farm”.
To the seasoned music student, having a free jazz workout on an educational record almost borders on humorous ironic kitsch. The point of these records was to help aspiring musicians navigate difficult chord progressions, and match the right scale to the right chord. Any student of the genre knows that free blowing is just that, you dig in and play what you feel, no chords or expected scales to worry about, just let it rip. But there it is on track eight, Richard Bierach, Frank Tusa and Al Foster doing their best to keep a free rhythm section interesting without any soloist to follow, and they do a pretty good job of it too. The rest of the record is more what you would expect, some fairly difficult post bop numbers for the young horn player to struggle with.
These educational records also serve another purpose for the home recording enthusiast. Its very easy to take any of these rhythm tracks and orchestrate your own tunes over them, something I did with another Aebersold record while making a requested ‘jazz song’ for a friend of mine’s animation soundtrack.