Over the course of recent generations of jazz musicians, the go-to supplier of jazz play-along recordings has been Jamey Aebersold, whose 200-plus recordings have made him a household name for anyone with even a passing interest in learning how to improvise. Although Aebersold’s books and recordings serve their intended purpose very well, the series has not quite caught up with today’s technology. Currently, the only option for getting the CDs and accompanying books is to either have them physically delivered via old-fashioned “snail-mail” or walk into a music store and purchase them yourself. While it’s a workable solution for many musicians, many of us have become accustomed to the culture of “download it now, or never.”
And Now for Something Completely Different
Enter the realm of PlayJazzNow.com (aka “PJN”). Website founder and bassist Bill Harrison has created a unique online hub where rather than ordering physical products such as CD’s and books, musicians can purchase MP3 downloads with accompanying sheet music for what essentially breaks down to $1 per track. A Monster Maker Like Abersold’s series, PJN offers a wide array of jazz’ best-known standards as well as an extremely impressive collection of strictly-practice volumes such as “Slow Major Turnaround ii-7 / V7 / IM7 / VI7(b9)” and “Traditional Blues” to name just a few. Bossas and Sambas are thrown in the mix as well. There’s even a great assortment of sets in odd meters. The rhythm sections sound “pro” and offer an appropriately neutral backdrop for honing your skills over challenging material.
Where PJN truly excels is in the facilitation of mastery in all twelve keys. If you peruse the site, you’ll see that many of tunes are organized in two sets of six keys each. The point here is to truly master one tune in all twelve keys as opposed to learning a bunch of tunes on a more superficial level. A select number of tunes are also available for purchase one recording at a time. Backing tracks are available in a multitude of instrumental configurations depending on the instrument that the set is geared towards. Of course, there’s an extremely plentiful selection of tracks with full rhythm section accompaniment for us saxophone players.
However, it is important to note that PJN’s sheet music does not include the melodies. This is an obvious byproduct of licensing limitations, but the upside is that PJN is able to offer accompaniment to tunes based on their popularity and usefulness as opposed to what’s legally available. Anyone with a good Real Book or two should be able to locate the melodies to these popular tunes anyhow. One area that could use some improvement is the organization of the website. At the moment, the listing of tunes is displayed in a manner that may be a bit unintuitive for those new to the site, so it may take you a bit of extra time to locate what you’re looking for. Hopefully this aspect of the site will be improved as PJN continues to develop.
The Wrap Up
When all is said and done, PlayJazzNow.com is a terrific resource for anyone who’s interested in making a major musical leap and having fun in the process.